Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry - 2017
Studio and Game Director, Playtonic
Quite a number of game creators that began their careers working behind the counter at GAME. Gavin Price was one of them, and it was whilst at the retailer that he met staff at the renowned local studio Rare.
Upon finding out from one of his customers that the firm was looking for game testers he applied (complete with a handwritten letter), and so began his 17-year career in the business.
“My first ever credit on Jet Force Gemini is probably my proudest achievement, just edging out starting up Playtonic,” Price tells us. “It’s tough to explain, but like any first in life it’s a moment in time that can’t ever be repeated and I think that’s what makes it so special. I nearly cried seeing my name scroll up the screen that first time… but didn’t because my name goes straight across a dancing Juno’s crotch, which made me laugh out loud instead.”
After working his way up into design roles, and having worked on big brands such as Banjo-Kazooie and Viva Pinata, Price decided to set up on his own.
“I had a huge desire to do things better, faster and smarter to create something that I’d love to be entertained by myself,” he said. “Large companies have many benefits but fast, efficient video games development is sometimes slowed down.”
In 2015 he formed Playtonic and set about working on the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie: Yooka-Laylee. The game generated over £2m via Kickstarter, making it one of the crowd-funding platform’s most successful games. Many former Rare colleagues followed Price to the new studio, which now boasts well over 20 staff.
“I’m a very lucky leader as I have great people with me who have never burdened me with the pressures of leadership,” he says.
CEO, Coatsink Software
“I got into this industry by luck,” begins Beardsmore.
“I’ve always loved video games, but lacked the technical ability, or at least I thought I did, to get into the industry. I studied Creative Writing at university and somehow fluked my way into a job at Blizzard [where he worked as GM]. After that, I came back to the UK and co-founded Coatsink with my oldest and dearest friend: Paul Crabb.”
Coatsink has developed a strong reputation thanks to the success of several titles, including the platformer Shu, Gang Beasts (which it worked on with Boneloaf) and the Esper series for Gear VR and Oculus Rift.
“My proudest moment so far was the first time we appeared at E3,” continues Beardsmore. “Jason Rubin name-dropped Coatsink and spoke about Esper on-stage at the Oculus E3 event in 2015. We were amongst incredible company and it felt utterly surreal. Everyone in the team was glowing afterwards.”
Beardsmore says that his team are the true heroes behind this success, and advises those new to games to persevere. “The mental and, in some cases, financial pressures of starting out will test your will.”
Co-founder and Composer, The Chinese Room
The Chinese Room’s co-founder Jessica Curry has established herself as an award-winning video game composer. She is perhaps best known for scoring Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, the latter of which led to her career highlight - winning a BAFTA.
Curry’s compositions have become best-sellers in the classical charts and the quality of her work has gathered the attention of Classic FM, where she will host a show on game music.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been banging about merging the worlds of classical and games music for some time,” she says. “I’m proud of the music that has been written for the genre and this show will be a positive way to engage new audiences, introducing them to the diverse and wonderful breadth of music that we have to offer.”
Curry is also a determined campaigner for greater diversity in the industry. However, she warns that newcomers must prepare for what can often be an uninviting industry.
“Learn how to protect yourself,” she advises. “It can be a brutal place and, especially if you’re a minority of any kind, you really need to devise strategies and support networks.”
She lists 18th Century pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft and singer Joni Mitchell as her inspirations, as well as husband and The Chinese Room studio head Dan Pinchbeck.
“There is no one whose words I’d rather write to,” she says. “He is a wonderful husband and father, and a modest chap. He dragged me into the industry kicking and screaming, but I’m glad he did as I’ve had the opportunity to make beautiful games and write some cracking music.”
CEO, Dream Reality Interactive
Dr Dave Ranyard was lecturing at Leeds University (while he was finishing his PhD) when he met a student that was opening a studio for Psygnosis.
He joined the team and thus began a long career working for PlayStation, creating products such as The Getaway, SingStar and VR Worlds. Yet last year he finally left Sony to set up his own studio devoted to VR development.
“I felt I needed a new challenge and VR is a disruptive medium,” he says. “I wanted to be a bit more agile than is possible inside a corporation.” He continues: “The step change in immersion with VR is enormous and being part of it, a pioneer if you like, is a dream come true.”
Ranyard has served on various boards and says the key to success in games is a strong team.
Taking up coding at a young age, Mike Bithell was destined for games. Although he worked at studios such as Blitz, it was his indie project Thomas Was Alone that made his name.
Taking inspiration from filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Bithell focused on making impressive titles with a tight budget. Now he is an aspirational figure for many a hopeful one-man indie, but when asked for advice on how to make it in games, he reminds fellow developers that “they are not on the same journey.”
“The business changes weekly, so I try not to give too much advice,” he says.
Following huge commercial success came the chance to meet his heroes, such as Hideo Kojima, which Bithell describes as a “massive privilege.” But according to the Volume creator, it’s the audience that drives him.
“It sounds corny, but the best part of this job is meeting the people who play our stuff,” he says. “Fan art, cosplay, videos – everything that folks do with the games we make.”
Crows Crows Crows
William Pugh is best known for comical narrative adventure The Stanley Parable, as well as various others titles created by his studio Crows Crows Crows. A friend to his fellow indies, he led an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for developers who had their equipment stolen at 2015’s A MAZE event in Germany.
As you might expect considering his development output, Pugh’s contribution to this profile has been… unusual.
He describes his No.1 achievement as “getting away with the murder of a prominent industry figure” and when asked who has inspired him, he says: “I’ve always felt like a self-rising Lazarus. I am my own inspiration and I will not veer credit to others in my section of this list.”
Most recently, Pugh has worked with the studio Squanchtendo (co-founded by Adventure Time star Justin Roilland) on VR title Accounting.
And how does he suggest future developers get into the business?
“Be my bag goblin,” he says. “Travel to an event that I’m going to be at and paint yourself green – then carry my bag around for me. I will shout ‘BAG GOBLIN!’ and you will appear from behind a potted plant or out of a toilet stall. You will then scuttle towards me and say ‘here is your bag, master’ in a goblin voice. If you do this for me, I will provide you with an excellent reference and I will teach you my secret video game recipe.”
Co-founder, Bossa Studios
Inspired by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy books, Imre Jele began writing choose-your-own-adventure stories as a child, which escalated into board game designs, tabletop RPG development and, eventually, video games.
He started at Jagex before moving onto Blitz Games, and then in 2010 he co-founded the award-winning Bossa Studios. The firm is best known for its comical physics-based titles such as Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread.
“When we started, we just wanted to make a statement about why creativity matters,” says Jele. “Six years later and about 50 people larger, we still do our best to go against the tide, creating unique games and in a unique way.
“Developers often take themselves and their games way too seriously so we deliberately made many of our games lighthearted – and frankly sometimes wacky. That said, the real goal of Bossa is to create games which entertain people with their surprising mechanics and unique content. That can mean one-handed clumsy surgery or the massively multiplayer, persistently physical universe of Worlds Adrift.”
Co-founder, Revolution Software
“I left school in 1980 and decided to read Mechanical Engineering at university,” begins Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil.
“I won a sponsorship with Ford on what was called the Special Engineering Programme. A fellow student, Richard Turner, had disassembled the ROM of the ZX80 and had started selling the listing under the name Artic Computing. One day he showed me some TRS-80 games, including Scott Adams’ adventures - I was blown away. Richard suggested that if I were to write a text adventure then he would code it, and we could publish it under the Artic label and maybe earn some beer money. And so I did.”
Cecil co-founded Revolution in 1990 and he’s excited by the the changes in games today.
“In the early ‘80s we would meet our community at events called Microfairs,” he says. “It was hugely insightful to hear people’s opinions. The dominance of publishers and retailers for the next 20 years meant that we lost direct contact with our community, but with digital that direct link has been reestablished.”
Cecil has achieved a lot in 30 years, from Broken Sword to education initiatives. So what’s next?
“It is said that games have not yet had their Citizen Kane moment,” he says. “It would be amazing to create a new genre that utilises the rich veins of narrative creativity that are emerging.”
Founder, Three Fields
Fiona Sperry began in book publishing at McGraw-Hill, before joining Criterion Software in 1997.
After initially working with external teams, she ended up leading the development of Dreamcast launch title Trickstyle.
“It was the first game I had been involved with from start to finish,” she says. “I led a small team of nine to make a Dreamcast game. It was also the game through which I met Alex Ward, who signed it for Acclaim.”
She asked Ward to join her and the two relaunched the studio as Criterion Games. Over the next 13 years they would develop the Burnout series, Black and rejuvenate Need for Speed - winning four BAFTAs. EA acquired the studio in 2004.
Then in 2014 she (along with Ward) decided to set-up their own outfit, Three Fields Entertainment.
“We have published two games in the last 9 months and we plan to release another in the next 6 months,” says Sperry. “We are able to be fast and nimble and we’re having the time of our lives."
“I’d had a lifetime love of games and used to kinda make them, like all ‘80s children with a home computer and access to a version of BASIC,” begins Sam Barlow.
“I was involved in the interactive fiction scene in the 1990s, but I never saw it as a career. Then after an aborted stint in the US dot com world, I was looking around for a job in the UK and found one as a game artist. From there I quickly moved to design, because I wouldn’t stop talking. Then I moved to lead designer, because I still wouldn’t stop talking. By the time I was writing and designing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories I realised that perhaps this is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Barlow was proud of that Silent Hill game on Wii, but it was the response to the award winning Her Story - a detective story (of sorts) featuring real video clips – that changed his world.
“A lot of what I love in storytelling comes about in the performance - performance allows you to compress and to use subtext and to seed emotion in the minds of your audience,” he says. “And I feel that the interactivity of game storytelling is an incredible tool to add richness to the experience, to further work the imagination muscle.”
Barlow credits Alfred Hitchcock as the world’s first great game designer, and wants to create experiences with a similar mass impact.
“He understood audience participation; he played them, played their psychology - and that was part of his recipe.”
MD, Hello Games
Sean Murray wrote his first game at just six-years old - it was a text adventure that he insists was terrible.
He studied Computer Science before joining Criterion, where he worked on Black and the Burnout series, before switching to Kuju to become the firm’s technical director. Yet he’s best known today as the founder of Hello Games (formed in 2008), and creating the award-winning Joe Danger series.
His studio was soon thrust into the limelight with the hype and reveal for No Man’s Sky, one of the most successful independently made PS4 games when it arrived in 2016.
Owner and COO, Revolution
Noirin Carmody began her career in the video games business back in 1988 at Activision.
She had moved to London from Dublin and took a position as a market analyst.
“It was a total departure for me. I had never played a computer game and had no knowledge of the industry,” she admits. “I spent the first six months at Activision researching and reporting on the emerging PC market in Europe. This work constituted in large part my crash course in the video games industry.”
She continues: “I am a great example of someone who had no previous knowledge of games, but my experience as a researcher meant that I had a skill that I was able to apply to the business. There is a perception that games are created by programmers only. This could not be further from the truth.”
Carmody soon co-founded Revolution Software, the studio behind Broken Sword.
“Revolution celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and it continues to create and retain ownership of its IP,” she says of her proudest achievements. “The company has employed talented individuals and I am really proud of the many former employees, some of whom have been nominated for BAFTA and Oscars, and now run their own studios.”
Outside of Revolution, Carmody has a major position as the chairperson of UKIE and plays an active role at the trade body in growing the UK games business.
Director, Ultimatum Games
It was a leaflet featuring the ZX Spectrum, handed to him by his friend Geoff Foley, that led to Shahid Ahmad’s interest in game creation.
“Up until then I thought that computers were pretty boring,” he admits. “I had not made the connection between colour arcade games and computers in my teenage mind until I saw that leaflet. Within months I’d self-published my first game, which sold zero copies. Still, it was a start.”
Ahmad describes himself as “a dirt poor 16 year old son of an immigrant on a council estate” when he saw a fellow teenager, Greg Christensen, win a $25,000 prize for making a video game. “I thought that if he can do it, then so can I,” he says.
After a career in development, Ahmad moved to management and eventually PlayStation, where he helped lead the company’s indie initiatives. But after a decade at Sony, he decided to return to development.
“At first I felt a bit like an impostor,” he says. “Now I realise I was wasting time when I should just have been going for it from the beginning. Development is a hundred times more complex than it was when I was last involved, but the tools are also a hundred times better. I’m enjoying it immensely and trust that my best development work is ahead of me.”
Cliff Harris has been a champion for indie games in recent years. After the success of his Democracy series, he has been publishing other studios’ titles, such as Big Pharma.
He started, however, by working in IT and playing Quake in his spare time.
“I would wonder how they made this game,” he says. “That eventually led me to mess around learning C, then C++, and starting to make my own indie games – long before that term was really a thing. I went indie, then triple-A, then back to indie – so not the normal route.”
As appealing as the indie life might seem, Harris urges future creators to approach the business realistically.
“Some people quit their job – or, worse, never take one – and think they can make an entire game with zero experience,” he says. “My first six or seven commercial games sucked – and that’s to be expected. I bet Van Gogh’s first seven paintings sucked, too. There’s an assumption amongst indie developers that their first game will sell enough to make a living. That’s almost always delusional.”
The award-winning Meg Jayanth has become a vital and accomplished voice in games writing. She’s best known for her sterling work on hit mobile and PC game 80 Days (developed by Inkle), alongside Failbetter’s acclaimed Sunless Sea.
“I wanted to tell stories, and I was drawn to the experimentation and possibility of interactive and digital storytelling,” she says when asked why she entered the industry. “It’s still a space that has barely been mapped out and we don’t even know the rules we’re going to end up breaking. That’s pretty exciting to me.”
A major proponent for driving diversity within not just the industry but video games themselves, she delivered an inspirational talk on the subject at GDC 2016. Not only did this become her career highlight, it introduced her to more people from the wider games industry, who said her session helped them discuss these issues in their workplaces.
“That was very much the goal,” she says. “I’d like to see a broader range of voices and perspectives in writers as well as in what games talk about. We’re seeing so much more innovation come out of the indie and mobile space, with free or easier-to-use tools allowing individuals or small groups to make games. Hopefully that’ll filter through to the wider industry.”
Studio Director, The Chinese Room
The Chinese Room is a real UK success story.
Beginning on Half Life 2 mods in 2007, the studio found fame first through 2012’s Dear Esther and then 2015’s Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture.
Dan Pinchbeck is one of the founders, and despite his obvious influence, is keen not to take all the credit for the team’s BAFTA-winning work.
“I’m really lucky to work with a bunch of incredibly talented and lovely people,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to make a studio that’s all about passion and flair and we’ve done that whilst protecting a culture that’s open, honest and ethical. I’m increasingly understanding what an achievement that has been. I share that credit with the whole team and with Jessica Curry. She’s really the brains of the outfit.”
He says he’s most inspired by those that have kept studios going for a decade or longer without “losing their souls or quality control.”
“That takes a really special type of person,” he says. “And I’m also inspired by good producers. I have undying respect for anyone who can bring a game in on-time and on-budget without killing the team.
“Good AAA producers are exceptional human beings and don’t get enough credit for what they achieve. It’s easy to recognise game directors like me because we are really visible. The industry rests on the unsung heroines and heroes.”
Finn Brice formed Chucklefish from nothing. He gathered a team of developers with little to no industry experience, launched a crowdfunding campaign and began work on the sci-fi adventure Starbound.
Today, Chucklefish is one of London’s most prominent indie studios, and Starbound a key success story for crowdfunding – a model Brice believes has brought down the barriers for any game maker with a strong vision.
“Crowdfunding is a direct line to innovation for many smaller teams with ideas that may be too much of a risk for a publisher or investors to approve,” he says. “It’s also a powerful voice for consumers desperate for something new in an industry largely overrun by stagnant genres and sequels.”
The ongoing success of Starbound enabled Chucklefish to offer funding and assistance to fellow indies, helping to bring titles such as Stardew Valley to PC and consoles. And Brice is keen to see more fresh talents find their place in the industry.
“Make a game,” he urges. “It doesn’t matter how good it is, how many people see it or what tools you use to create it. Prove you can see it through. Try to master one skill along the way but ensure you have a good understanding of the basics surrounding other disciplines. Keep trying.”
Co-founder, Bossa Studios
Born in Brazil, Henrique Olifiers was inspired to chase his development dream in the UK due to magazines such as Your Sinclair and Crash, as well as the multitude of great games being developed here in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“I’ve always loved video games, ever since I got my hands on Pong,” he says. “When I finally managed to convince my parents to buy me a ZX-Spectrum a few years later, I began coding my own games out of sheer necessity. Living in a remote area of Brazil, coming across new titles was a bit... challenging.
“I started making games for myself, and soon I was selling them on cassette tape to friends at school who seemed to like what I was creating.”
Over the course of more than 30 years, Olifiers has worked on mobile, MMOs, VR, social games and indie titles. After his time as head of gaming at Brazil’s GloboTV (where he developed one of Latin America’s most popular online trading card games during the early 2000s), he came to the UK to work as head of development at Jagex, before a stint at Playfish and then co-founding Bossa Studios - the team behind Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread and the upcoming Worlds Adrift.
Terry Cavanagh was one of the first people to throw himself into the current indie scene. After studying maths, he worked briefly as a market risk analyst before making the leap into games.
“Like a lot of people in the industry, I’ve basically wanted to make games since I was a kid,” he says. “But career-wise, my first big step from hobby to profession was going indie back in 2007.”
Cavanagh has numerous indie titles under his belt, but it’s award-winning hits such as Don’t Look Back, Super Hexagon and VVVVVV – the latter still his proudest achievement – that really established him as one of the sector’s most notable creators.
“Coming up on 10 years of being indie, I owe a lot to the people who inspired me to make that initial leap back in 2007,” he says. “Derek Yu for running TIGSource, Tim W. for running the Indygamer blogspot, Daisuke Amaya for Cave Story. Between them, they created the space that made what I do possible.”
Co-founder, State of Play
One of the most creative UK developers, Katherine Bidwell is perhaps best known for her work on Lumino City: a point-and-click adventure game in which the world is entirely generated through stop-motion animation. The title took three years to create but received widespread acclaim and won the BAFTA for Artistic Achievement, along with two other nominations.
“We knew we had created something special, but we were still unsure how everyone else would react to it,” Bidwell recalls. “The validation of a BAFTA was a huge moment for State of Play. At times during development, it felt like we were never going to finish. It stretched the company both financially and creatively with the techniques we were using. I couldn’t be more proud of what we all achieved.”
The source of Bidwell’s greatest inspiration was her A-Level art teacher – affectionately nicknamed ‘Womble’ for her tendency to bring in items collected from tips and skips to be used in her students’ artwork.
“She taught me that if you applied yourself correctly, you really could do anything you wanted to,” says Bidwell.
Studio Head, Ustwo Games
After his dad brought home an Atari ST one Christmas, Daniel Gray knew he wanted to make video games. One “arduous” games design degree, a regularly rejected portfolio and five days work experience at Lionhead later, he found his way in.
Gray has worked at Kuju and Hello Games, but he is best known as the studio head of Ustwo – the developer behind Monument Valley and VR title Land’s End. The former earned Gray and his team global recognition.
“Final Fantsy VII was one of the main reasons for me choosing this path,” he says. “At the GDC Awards two years ago, [Final Fantasy creator] Hironobu Sakaguchi came up and congratulated us for winning three categories with Monument Valley. It felt like I’d come full circle, and I was frozen in place like some fanboy.”
Gray was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and now natures new talent as a BAFTA Games Guru. In fact, winning two BAFTAs for Monument Valley in 2015 is his proudest moment.
“To actually win something that your grandmother has heard of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy,” he says.
Founder, Facepunch Studios
Garry Newman was not a trained computer programmer when he started making Garry’s Mod, the physics-based oddity that established him in the business. The game started out as a sandbox mode for tinkering in Valve’s Source engine and, as of January 2016, it has sold 10 million copies.
Since then, Facepunch has expanded to 20 employees and it has created open-world survival game Rust, which has shifted 3m units and began generating more revenue than Garry’s Mod after just two months on sale. The firm has since released VR game Chunks.