Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry - 2017
Dr Jo Twist OBE
Dr Jo Twist was a tech journalist before working on games projects for both Channel 4 and the BBC. Then in 2012 she became CEO of UKIE (the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment), transforming the trade body, and playing an instrumental role in delivering tax breaks, new education initiatives, and improving the business’ relationship with government.
Twist is a London Tech Ambassador, a VP of SpecialEffect and is on various boards and advisory groups - including the BAFTA Games Committee. She’s also been awarded an OBE for her efforts supporting the creative industry.
“The best thing about this business is without doubt the wonderful, generous, creative, inspiring people you encounter,” she says. “We are in the business of creating the future and the present and that is so exciting to be around.”
Of course, working for an organisation that’s about improving the environment for UK video games companies means that Twist has a long list of objectives left to achieve.
“We should benefit from similar cultural funding and support as other screen and arts-based sectors,” she says. “Games have a critical soft power and educational role to play, which should be recognised. We will also focus our efforts on making sure this sector is fed by the most diverse and skilled workforce in the world, from around the globe as well as from across the UK.”
Dr Mick Donegan
In 2008, Dr Mick Donegan founded SpecialEffect, which uses specialised technology to enhance access to video games for people with disabilities.
“Starting the charity was a massive risk,” he says. “While many charities have a broad appeal to a wide range of potential donors, there are a lot of people who don’t understand how life-transforming it can be for people with disabilities to play games. I therefore started the charity knowing that if the games industry and gamers didn’t get behind it, then it was unlikely that we would survive, let alone thrive. The way that they’ve taken our cause to their hearts has been hugely positive, heart-warming and humbling.”
Donegan now hopes to influence developers in making games more accessible.
“If I’m able to achieve a stable financial future for the charity, then I’ll also be able to continue to pursue my other burning ambition, which is to utilise our ever-growing expertise to help severely disabled people right across the world through online information and resources, plus collaboration with developers to make their products as accessible to as many disabled people as possible,” he says.
Chris Lee’s impact on the games industry cannot be underestimated. He co-founded Media Molecule, FreeStyleGames, Delinquent and Playhubs. He has also invested and advised the likes of Future Games of London, Hutch, Space Ape, Gumbug, Hello Games and many more.
Fascinated with art and engineering, Lee built flight simulators and oil rig training apps whilst at university, before joining technology firm MultiGen - which had created GameGen and was part of the ‘Dream Team’ of tech suppliers for N64. As the man handling sales and support in Europe (on his own), he worked with Rare, DMA Design and Software Creations.
“After that, I joined David Lau-Kee at Criterion to help run RenderWare. That meant spending time with Midway, Rockstar, Activision, THQ, Rage, Eidos, Konami and Sega,” he says. “Working with these exceptional teams gave me the itch to build my own studios.”
And build them he did.
“Taking on the big boys with a new independent team is always fun,” he says. “There’s nothing more life affirming than working with a small group that’s determined to change the world. In console, Media Molecule and Hello Games did this. Hutch, Playdiation, Gumbug, Space Ape and Armada are destined to do the same on mobile.”
Andy Payne is known for his work through AppyNation, Mastertronic, UKIE, GamesAid and more. He has been in the industry for over 30 years, with his influence stretching from digital markets to studios and even eSports.
Prior to his life in games, Payne worked in book publishing and ended up on an educational software label “because I was ‘the lad who was interested in computers’.” He then joined the games industry fully, working on hit titles such as The Way of the Exploding Fist in 1986.
Never afraid to share advice, Payne says there are three key things to remember when seeking a games industry career.
“First up, make sure you can show what you can do or what you have done – and at a moment’s notice,” he says. “Second, network like crazy. Get along to as many industry events as you can and make friends.
“Finally, be informed. Read the industry news sites and get to understand how the industry works and where you think you can fit in. Be persistent and be available. Opportunities come to those who search for them.”
Dr Richard Wilson seems to have his perfect job. “I have a deep interest in politics and business,” he says. “I also enjoy strategy games. TIGA combines all three interests. I run political campaigns and engage with policy makers. I manage an award-winning business. And I engage with studios – including developers of strategy games.”
Wilson has been with TIGA for nine years. He has represented the development sector within the media, and also has campaigned for more Government support. He’s most proud for his involvement in securing tax breaks for UK studios.
“The campaign lasted seven years, during which time we successfully convinced four political parties, three different governments and the EU Commission to agree to the tax breaks,” he says.
Having accomplished this, Wilson urges the industry to keep pushing for an enhanced version of the tax relief, a new games investment fund and the creation of a British Games Institute.
General Partner, London Venture Partners
Recently named VP of BAFTA Games, David Gardner is a video games veteran, having served as CEO of Atari and COO of EA Studios - not bad for someone who started his career in customer service.
“I was 17 and [EA founder] Trip Hawkins offered to pay me money to play computer games,” he says. “I’ve never stopped.”
His 25-year stint at EA saw Gardner drive the firm’s expansion until it passed $1bn in revenues across 14 countries. He was part of the team that introduced FIFA to the world, and under his remit EA was voted the ninth best place to work in the UK in 2003.
Gardner is particularly proud of his most recent work at London Venture Partners, where he has invested in the likes of Supercell, NaturalMotion, and a number of rising UK studios.
“The UK had an early start in global gaming with the local ecosystem around the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC,” he says. “Everyone in the industry back then was an entrepreneur. That has obviously grown to attract global players that have set up European headquarters here.”
Head of Games, Games London
Michael French is a games media and events veteran, whose career has included leading B2B publications MCV and Develop and resurrecting the London Games Festival last year.
“I co-wrote a games fanzine with a friend in the early noughties, which got a small audience, some coverage about us in Edge, and then I was spotted by MCV’s editor,” French recalls.
Beginning as a staff writer, French would eventually become publisher of Intent Media’s games department, building teams and launching multiple events. So he was a natural fit for tackling the new LGF.
“The principles to running an industry publication are the same as this - you meet people, you react to their needs, you try and amplify the good stuff and make connections where some were lacking.”
As for the future, French says he tries not to plan too far ahead.
“I’m rolling with what happens,” he says. “So much changes so quickly in this industry, you'd be crazy to think otherwise.”
Assistant Director, DCMS
A member of the Deparment for Culture, Media and Sport, Lynne Kilpatrick is a crucial champion of the games industry in government, and continues to push for support from those in power. Her work was instrumental in getting the UK Government to formulate a plan for games tax relief.
She has also been awarded an OBE, receiving the honour for services to the video games industry.
“The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, and I love how video games are a blend of technology and art, and combine the digital and creative worlds,” she says. “Having worked closely with the sector over many years now, I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet so many talented and dynamic individuals and world-leading businesses.”
One of the fathers of the industry, Ian Livingstone’s achievements are numerous. He designed Domark’s first game Eureka, oversaw the emergence of Eidos and Lara Croft and transformed the school curriculum to include computer science. He is a patron for GamesAid, a VP at SpecialEffect and the vice chair of UKIE. He’s won countless awards, too, including a BAFTA, various honorary doctorates, an OBE, a CBE and a lot more. Outside of video games, he co-founded Games Workshop in 1975 and is the co-author of the Fighting Fantasy series (which have sold 18m books).
Livingstone is now regularly chairing, investing in and advising UK studios - such as Bossa, The Secret Police, Midoki, Flavourworks, Playdemic and Sumo.
“I invest in studios, give them the benefit of my experience, and hopefully make a difference,” he says. “I usually take a non-exec Chairman role, but I also enjoy getting involved in the game designs.”
He still plays an active role encouraging the government in supporting games initiatives.
“I speak from the heart when making the case to government,” he says. “It’s been a collective effort and it hasn’t been easy. We’ve had some wins with Tax Relief, but more needs to be done. That is one of the reasons why we are calling for a British Games Institute. The industry would benefit from having its own government agency to fund development.”
Livingstone is writing a new Fighting Fantasy book and is opening free schools under the Livingstone Academy name. He’d also like to make a video game based on his City of Thieves book, a movie based on his Deathtrap Dungeon book (a script exists) and design more board games.
“Geek admission – I have over 1,000 board games in my collection,” he says.
CEO, Women In Games
While working as an artist, Marie-Claire Isaaman developed an interest in games after watching her son play Nintendo titles. An artist’s residency in Tokyo increased her fascination with the medium, and when she returned to the UK she took over the games art and design degree course at her university.
“I was really proud when a team I closely mentored won Dare To Be Digital, then went on to win a BAFTA,” she says of her proudest moment.
Isaaman was the first academic to be inducted into the European Women In Games Hall of Fame and later became CEO, helping the organisation to improve diversity in the video games industry.
“One area that needs particular support is the educational pipeline that serves the games sector,” says Isaaman. “At school, girls often aren’t sufficiently encouraged to follow careers in games or technology – many aren’t even aware this is a viable career path. At college and university level, many courses are extremely male dominated and the curricula can reflect that. Consequently, girls can find it difficult to express themselves.”
Senior Director, Nesta
Originally specialising in economic research, Hasan Bakhshi decided to combine this with his passion for games and films by joining Nesta. He has since become a major proponent of the creative economy through data-driven policy recommendations to government, including his involvement in the Next Gen Skills Review.
“Collecting data and undertaking research to influence government policy can be frustrating, as the links between evidence and what governments do are far from obvious,” he says. “So Next Gen, where Ian Livingstone, Alex Hope, Juan Mateos-Garcia and I turned around Department for Education policy on computer science in schools through the force of argument, was a rewarding experience.”
Most recently, Bakhshi was instrumental in the creation of the UK Games Map, a website that charts all of the nation’s games firms.
“That has revealed that video games buck the trend of most creative industries in having a strong regional presence across the UK, not just in the south of England,” he says.
Programme Director, Digital Schoolhouse
Shahneila Saeed hadn’t planned on working in games. She trained to be a computer teacher and entered the profession as soon as she left university. However, her experiments with new techniques that use games to engage with children soon set her on the path to becoming Head of Education at UKIE and director of the trade body’s Digital Schoolhouse programme.
“I never imagined leaving teaching, but when an opportunity to lead an initiative like this comes along, you simply don’t say no,” she says.
Celebrating its one year anniversary this September, Digital Schoolhouse is a programme that changes the way computing is taught in education, and it encourages schools to use play-based learning to get more from their students. Saeed was instrumental in bringing this concept to life, as well as securing support from PlayStation.
“Schools want to, and need to, work with the industry,” she says. “Video games aren’t just a beautiful fusion of STEAM subjects [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] – they are the hook that automatically engages students with their learning.”
As CEO of Atomhawk, Cumron Ashtiani has set the standard for art outsourcing in the games industry, growing the firm from a four-person start-up to a team of 25. Together they have helped define the vision of hit games such as Mortal Kombat X, Dead Island, Kinect Sports and several blockbuster movies.
Ashtiani began his career as an artist in 1997. His love of games made a career in the industry inevitable, and the rise of 3D graphics added further motivation. He would go on to hold senior art roles at Gremlin, Kuju and Midway, before setting up Atomhawk in 2009.
“I was first blown away by the original Tomb Raider - that was one of the first games that felt truly immersive to me,” he says. “It had great art for the era. As games have matured and the art side has become increasingly high fidelity, I looked to film for inspiration and I was thrilled to get to work with Marvel on a number of its movies over the past five years.”
MD, Game Republic
A career in games was not originally the plan for former PC Zone editor Jamie Sefton. After struggling to make it as an actor, he stepped into the industry on Future’s Arcade magazine in 1999.
“During my second week I went on a hilarious press trip to the Munich beer festival and knew I’d found the industry that I wanted to be in for the rest of my life,” he says.
Sefton is now MD of Game Republic, a network designed to support games companies in Yorkshire and Northern England. The organisation now boasts more than 60 developer, affiliate and university members In 2011, it lost its public funding, but the industry backed Sefton to run the business privately.
“I’m so grateful to Revolution, Sumo, Team17, Insight, Red Kite, Autodesk and all the developers and universities for that,” he says. “It’s vital for our industry – now more than ever – to ensure that video games communities, networks and hubs in areas across the whole of the UK are given support by central and local government to rebalance the economy. I love London, but it’s extremely expensive - digital distribution means you can now make and release games anywhere.”
Head of Games,
Since 1992, Gina Jackson has worked at a number of developers and publishers, including Infogrames, Kuju, Eidos and now with Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios. And yet, the way she tells it, this industry figurehead “fell into games”.
“I was at the end of a masters in graphics computer programming,” she says. “I went to an interview not knowing much about the company. They turned out to be a games firm and after six months I was producing my first games on the SNES and Mega Drive.”
Moving from development into publishing led her to Kuju, where she signed Battalion Wars with Nintendo.
“The Japanese team came over to give us direct feedback from Miyamoto,” Jackson says. “It was a true fangirl moment. I started off developing SNES games, so he and his games were always an inspiration.”
Jackson has also spent a year as CEO of Women In Games Jobs, plus two as MD of the Next Gen Skills Academy, all the while pushing to make the industry more diverse.
Alex Chapman once dreamed of working in video games development, but he decided he was better suited to the legal side, and is now one of the industry’s leading lawyers.
“When I was growing up I helped my brother make games – only I was always much better at arguing than I was at coding, and so I made a career out of that instead.
Chapman’s work has included helping some of the UK’s biggest brands and studios.
“What pleases me most is when I help the little guys take on - or even become - the big guys. Like helping Mojang with pretty much everything to to do with Minecraft from the start through to the sale and beyond,” he says. “Or helping Sports Interactive become independent from Eidos and creating Football Manager. Or taking Creative Assembly from a porting house to the owners of the Total War franchise, and aiding Hello Games’ tiny team in producing something as huge as No Man’s Sky. These aren’t really my achievements but those of my clients.”