Meet the 100 rising stars of the UK games industry
Check out our interviews with the winners of this year's GamesIndustry.biz 100
Adam Boyne was one of the many talented young people who'd been led to think that a life in video games was an unattainable dream. But successfully creating a game for his studies at the University of Hull gave him the belief that it was something he could do.
Straight out of uni he co-founded BetaJester, which released its first game in November 2015. His most remarkable moment came a month later.
“It wasn't until Christmas that year, at my partner's family party, that I understood what making and releasing video games would really mean,” Boyne says. “I wanted to show my partner's young cousin our game as he was a fan of video games. Within a few minutes of playing he exclaimed ‘oh yeah, I've played this already'.
“This real-world connection to someone I hadn't told finding my game and playing it independently of me really brought home the fact that I was making something to entertain people, and that there were people out there who found my work entertaining. That was a really great moment for me and has spurred me on to build bigger and better games as a result.”
Adam also continues to promote the viability of a career in games development by speaking at universities and events, and has represented the Yorkshire games industry on behalf of Creative England at GDC.
Lots of us have fond memories of the Sega Dreamcast, but for Adam Campbell it was a machine that changed his life.
“My career ambitions completely changed when I got a Dreamcast aged 11,” he says. “It was during a time where game graphics were starting to express characters and worlds in ways we had only imagined up to that point. I became increasingly more interested in the underlying technologies that made these games possible and how perfectly they could blend art, storytelling and science. After that, I knew I had to work in games.”
With a CV that includes work on mobile, online and AAA, Adam now works at Azoomee, which is a kids games platform that promotes safe gaming. He is also deputy chair at BAME in Games, which champions the increased participation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the interactive sector.
“I want the games industry to have its 'Black Panther' moment,” he adds. “Many things made that film special, including the depiction of afro-futurism rarely seen on screen, the culturally accurate references, the incredible roles and portrayals of a cast that's usually under-represented and the diversity of those working behind-the-scenes - all leading to something that was not only a record breaking success, but a huge inspiration for many.
“We have a lack of diverse representation in the games industry both behind-the-scenes and in the work released to the market. Other creative media sectors, including film, are way ahead in this regard. I think games can get there faster, but we need to take the diversity of our industry seriously and we need to make it far more welcoming and accessible to the many people who feel it's not a place where they can lead a successful career or express their creative visions.”
Adam and Tom Vian
The two brothers have been making games together for almost 15 years.
“I grew up playing Mega Drive and PlayStation games, but it was never a specific decision to make games,” says Adam. “I like animation, I like character design, I like problem-solving... having a brother who is a programmer helps a lot, as well. We made Flash games for free on Newgrounds.com for a long time before we realised we could turn it into a career.”
Tom continues: “It really just grew out of the hobby we had since we were young teens, making small free games and not-so-small animated movies. That hobby eventually led to us being paid small amounts to make games, and then eventually it just seemed like the logical next step to make it official with a company.”
Despite a long history in game creation, it was in 2017 when the duo achieved their happiest accomplishment. They teamed up with Nintendo to create a Switch launch game - the critically acclaimed Snipperclips.
“Professionally speaking, my proudest achievement is definitely making and shipping a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, with Nintendo as our publisher and co-creator,” Tom beams. “Snipperclips is still now, over a year later, played a lot on YouTube and Twitch, and when I'm watching a group of friends crack up laughing while trying to reunite a frog with its children, that's when I feel most proud of what we've achieved.”
Adam adds: “Getting to work with Nintendo was a pleasure and an honour. People seem to really love the game too - hearing stories about kids playing it with their parents, that's a good reward.”
With a hit Nintendo game under their belts, Adam and Tom hope to grow SFB Games and capitalise on the new found fame. But they have rather modest aspirations as to where they'll be in five years time.
"We'd like to stay fairly small, perhaps bring on a few full time folks so it's not just the two of us,” Tom suggests. “Mainly though, I just want to keep making fun, weird games.”
Adam concurs: “I don't mind as long as I'm making colourful fun things that make me happy.”
Picture credit: BAFTA
By his own admission, Millis had no idea what he was doing when co-founding Virtual Umbrella three years ago, but at only 23 years old, he has made a success of the VR marketing agency.
While it was a love of games that got Millis into the industry, it was the “truly wonderful, friendly, and honest people” he's worked with that kept him there.
Millis says he would like to see the industry appear more inviting for those pursuing careers outside of development or art.
A proactive member of the wider games community, Millis has worked on projects such as Unrest VR, designed to highlight chronic fatigue syndrome. He was also heavily involved in the Yogscast Jingle Jam which raised over $5.2 million for charity.
“Bertie is one of the VR pioneers in the UK and even I — located in Germany — love his insights, thought leadership, and endless drive to promote the tech into gaming, industry, and other consumer use cases,” said one industry friend.
Considering ways in which the industry could change for the better, Millis says he would like to see more of the great work being done to combat toxic communities and harassment culture.
Alex joined the games industry as a staff writer at MCV and quickly established himself as the beating heart of its busy trade editorial team. His eye for news and journalistic hunger led to a rapidly expanding contact book.
His next success was helping to establish the growth of the successful London Games Festival, but it was no surprise when he eventually chose to head over to Steel Media to head up its new PC games trade site PCGamesInsider.biz.
His incredible work ethic and journalistic integrity now sees the site fighting toe-to-toe with other more resourced rivals.
“Rising to the role of deputy editor at MCV after three years of hard work was pretty special and being published in esteemed outlets like Eurogamer, Kotaku and The Observer has been amazing. Plus, launching PCGamesInsider.biz for Steel Media was a fantastic opportunity and something I am incredibly proud of.
“But the thing I am most proud of is the extremely talented people I have been fortunate to work with over the years - to name just a few; Ben Parfitt, Michael French, Roz Tuplin, Chris Dring, Craig Chapple, Greg Lockley, Dave Bradley and Danielle Partis.
“At some point I'd love to work in developer relations for an indie publisher; the indie scene is something I care deeply about and this is a sector I'd love to support in a more direct role. It's been said a thousand times before, but this is where the true innovation and the truly new ideas come from in our market and I'd love to help developers who are trying to break the mould.”
Moyet began her career in video games marketing working on the advertising account for Xbox at McCann Erickson, where she was responsible for launching the award winning mobile app campaign for Kinect Star Wars.
She then joined Sony as a product manager working on some of PlayStation's biggest franchises including Killzone, Uncharted, and The Last of Us before moving to work as a commercial strategist at Media Molecule.
In 2016, Moyet founded Amcade, a specialist PR and marketing consultancy for the video games industry, and continued to work with Media Molecule alongside SpecialEffect and a collection of indie studios.
“I was really proud of myself when I set up Amcade,” she says. “It was quite scary to go it alone but it gave me really wonderful opportunities like working with SpecialEffect, speaking at GDC and helping a bunch of indie studios get more love for their games.”
Shortly thereafter, Moyet joined Curve Digital as marketing director where she led a number of campaigns, before moving on to her current role as senior marketing manager at Activision for the Destiny franchise.
“I actually never dreamed I'd be working in the games industry even though I've always loved video games… it's safe to say I've never looked back and really couldn't imagine working outside of games now,” Moyet adds. “It's such a dynamic industry and is filled with some of the most wonderful, smart and interesting people you could hope to meet.”
Hi-Rez Studios Europe
Since he was a child, Alexandre Grimonpont has been passionate about video games – particularly competitive ones.
“They always allowed me to outdo myself, discover inspiring worlds and becoming friends with players from around the globe,” he says. “At 13, I said to my dad: ‘I want to work in games'.”
So he did. At 14 years old, Grimonpont became a professional player, specialising in Wolfenstein's multiplayer. But the real catalyst for his career was in 2013, when he began focusing on content creation and commentating on matches as an esports caster.
He soon attracted the attention of Blizzard, who brought him on to help with creating French content for DreamHack Valencia, Road to BlizzCon EU and the ESL Major Leagues in 2015. A year later, he was hired by the newly-formed Hi-Rez Studios Europe, where he has really proven his talent.
Earning three promotions in less than two years, he rose to become player engagement director, and works on driving the communities around Smite and Paladins across the EMEA territories.
When asked for his proudest moment so far, he says: “Definitely working with my team and help them to effectively engage with more than 30 million players, in a player-first company operating from different offices separated by 6,500 kilometres.
“It's such a blast to learn from the team and focus every day on doing what's best for our players. We organised events in more than 10 countries, grew social media channels from the ground up and established genuine relationships with all our content creators while reinforcing our presence in media.”
He hopes to continue working for companies such as Hi-Rez, and is keen to do more travelling in order to “keep on learning as much as I possibly can.”
Sony London Studio
Former Lionhead producer Alexia Christofi got her start in games as an intern at the Fable studio and quickly rose through the ranks. She later moved on to UK virtual reality developer NDreams, and eight months ago joined her current team at Sony's London Studio.
She has worked on a number of hit games, but Christofi will never forget her first: the remastered title Fable Anniversary.
“Seeing my name in the credits alongside everyone else who had worked so hard in our team was a huge achievement,” she says.
At Lionhead, she created a new system called Build Marshalls to help the team better track the builds they worked on, and also introduced a new agile methodology at NDreams.
Christofi's path to the games industry began in the early ‘90s when she borrowed her brother's Mega Drive and soon fell in love with the medium. Interestingly, a career in the industry never occurred to her until her mother suggested looking into university courses.
During her subsequent studies Christofi met Lionhead producer Craig Oman, who explained his role and set her on the path to her current vocation.
“One thing I believe we need to be better at is addressing the gender split within the games industry,” she says. “I could not fault my colleagues - past or present - in this regard, as I never feel discriminated against at work.
“I think the real issue lies with being able to convince school and college students that the games industry is a welcoming, exciting place for women. We can all do our part to make this more visible; be it visiting schools, running hackathons, doing talks or just showing young women that the games industry is a place where equality is key.”
Looking ahead, Christofi hopes to “continue helping to create great AAA games”, with the dream of eventually becoming an executive producer.
Alice joined Network N straight from university at the age of 24, and now runs all of the network's video output. Fans will recognise her as the face of PCGamesN's YouTube channel, which she plans, scripts and hosts. Throughout her stint the channel has grown from 7,000 subscribers to over 60,000.
“I've been a fan of video games for as long as I can remember and my passion for them only strengthened as I studied them at university,” she says. “It was never something I thought would be possible to get into, but I found a way, and I feel proud to be a part of such an interesting industry.
“I would love for the industry to be more diverse, to see more women, people of colour, and LGBTQ folk be a part of it. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say this, and I know a lot of outlets are striving towards a more diverse spectrum of people. I'm lucky to be working in an office where there are a lot of fabulous ladies, but there is always room for improvement.”
Experienced writer and host Alysia Judge says storytelling has always fascinated her, and that she was drawn to the games industry because “it often finds the most creative and interesting ways to tell stories.”
Judge is self-taught in the arts of video editing and presenting, skills she developed after deciding to move to Sweden to run a YouTube channel for games accelerator Stugan.
“I'd never used a camera - I didn't even know what aperture was - and somehow I found myself single-handedly creative five videos a week on game design in the middle of the Swedish woods, Googling Adobe Premiere tutorials at 2am,” she says. “It was a crash course in production that set me on the path to work for IGN.”
Judge's long-term goal is to produce and present an documentary that examines games culture and how gaming communities are prompting change outside of their own circles.
She regularly volunteers her time to talk to young people about getting into the industry, which led to a profound moment and her biggest desire for change.
“I recently went to a primary school to talk to 400 children about careers in video games,” she says. “After my talk a little girl hung back to talk to me, nervously tugging at her sleeves, her hair in cornrows, to ask one question: ‘Are you allowed to make video game characters that look like you?'
“The subtext was clear. She was asking whether she could grow up and make a character with dark skin and braids because she'd noticed there are no characters that look like her in the games she plays. For an eight-year-old, absence usually means something's forbidden; fear had set in that her race was ‘not allowed.' This little girl didn't have the vocabulary for racial exclusion, but it had already snaked its tendrils around her ambition.”
At 17 years old, Amie McKenzie was considering her career options. A friend's insistence that she play Final Fantasy VIII five years previously put games at the top of her list... but she was unsure of how to pursue this dream.
“I wasn't arty, I was terrible at maths and as far as I knew then, they were the only jobs available in the games industry,” she says.
The support of her mother helped her find a number of game design courses and after studying hard, McKenzie quickly achieved her dream job: working at Fable creator Lionhead. The job was “everything I hoped it would be”, she tells us, and she soon rose to become a producer on Fable Legends.
“Unfortunately dream jobs within the games industry are hard to hold on to and most people reading this will know the ending of this story - Lionhead was shut down,” McKenzie says. “All you can do is to move on and find new dreams and achievements to pursue in this ever-changing industry.”
Since Lionhead's demise, McKenzie has served at Goodgame Studios and then joined Sumo Digital, now working on Crackdown 3. But her experience has left her yearning for better stability in the games industry.
“I wouldn't want to work anywhere else but in my six years I've seen four studio closures,” she says. “Trends within games change so rapidly that I don't feel that stability is something that will come easily. I'd like publishers to become less trigger happy when it comes to shutting studios down, maybe decrease a team's size to create special smaller games.”
These closures haven't stopped McKenzie from dreaming, however. Now transitioning into an art producer role, she hopes to one day work on a big RPG – a genre she has been passionate about since that first Final Fantasy experience.
“From a young age, I wanted to work with video games to create fun experiences that can help others,” explains Rockstar's Amrita Bharij.
“Growing up in the 1990s, video games were at the forefront of interactive entertainment. As well as being incredibly cutting edge and hours of fun, I saw first hand how video games can give a sense of empowerment, especially for people who aren't able to play physical sports or drive in real life. Video games provide an amazing avenue to enable people to have those experiences. All these factors, combined with my ambition of being a designer, all added up and inspired me to get involved in UX design in games.”
Amrita has been in the video games industry for 10 years, and is a highly regarded UI and UX expert. She focuses on balancing aesthetics and usability. She also enjoys creating flows and wire-frames, user testing and research, planning and problem solving, as well as having a strong interest in typography, iconography, motion graphics and animation. She is also UX Certified by the Nielsen Norman Group.
“If I was to pick one achievement it would be during my tenth year in the industry when I retrained to upgrade my skills and qualifications and became UX certified,” she says of her proudest moment. “I then got a job with Rockstar, which I've been a fan of since the beginning of time.”
Alongside Rockstar, Amrita has worked for EA, Playfish and Space Ape in similar roles, and is well regarded for her positivity and speaking openly and frequently on the importance of UI and UX. She has now set her sights on supporting the wider industry in other significant matters.
“In the next five years, as well as having fun making ace games, I aim to give a little more back to the industry, such as helping out more with games charities, BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic], and diversity, doing more with mentoring and becoming more proactive with inspiring the next generation,” she says.
Spilt Milk Studios
Games have always been a part of Roper's life, but it wasn't until learning web development at secondary school that the Spilt Milk technical director realised the games industry was where he wanted to be.
“I'd made a small text-based browser game which had a large number of sign-ups, and seeing people enjoying what I'd made was the catalyst I needed to push myself into getting into games,” he says.
Having been accepted as a full BAFTA member last year, Roper would now like to take on some full time employees and grow Spilt Milk into something more than the two-man studio it currently is.
His main concern regarding the current state of the industry, and the thing he would like to see change, is the gatekeeping and curation for digital storefronts.
“There's so much bloatware, games and apps that make their way onto Steam, Google Play and the App Store, which can damage our industry's image and hinder legitimate developers chances of having their product seen,” he says. “I know that Valve had tried to address this via Greenlight and Steam Direct but it feels like it hasn't had much of an impact.”
“This industry felt less like something I wanted to get into, but something I was coming home to.”
So says Anisa Sanusi of Hutch Games, a UI and UX designer that has previously proven her talents across multiple titles at Frontier Developments and Double Eleven Games – although the games industry isn't where she got her start.
“I knew from very young that I wanted to do art for a living, and I took a winding road of trying out comics, illustration and animation,” she says. “Video games has been a constant throughout - both as an inspirational goal and a form of entertainment. The transition from my early job in animation into video games felt natural, and in a way I truly do feel like I belong.”
Peers praise her for her “fascinating talks” and her “entertaining and informative personality”, with several convinced Sanusi has “a bright future ahead of her.”
It's not the products she's worked on that have proven to be the highlights of her career, but rather the people she has worked with – with Sanusi adding that she feels she wins bonus points every time her team receives a message from players saying how much they love their work.
“Now THAT gets you up in the morning to create games,” she adds.
Malaysia-born Sanusi is also keen to ensure more women and people from diverse backgrounds can find their place in the industry as she has, volunteering at various industry events and game jams to reach out to future talent, as well as being an active member of the BAFTA Games Crew.
Described by a colleague as “one of the hardest working PR in the industry”, Anita Wong joined London-based agency Indigo Pearl over four years ago.
Now an account manager, Wong says her move into the games industry was “pure serendipity” and that she fell into the role after a brief foray into fashion journalism.
For the last few years, Wong has taken a leading role managing Blizzard's PR, and considers the Overwatch launch campaign as one of her proudest achievements.
Taking inspiration from Indigo Pearl's managing director Caroline Miller, in the next five years Wong said she would like to be in a position where she can mentor someone.
Looking forward, Wong says the one thing she would improve about the industry is diversity.
“It never occured to me beforehand that this could be the industry I enter,” she says. “It's being worked on now, and it's progressing slowly in the right direction, but games touch such a wide variety of topics that you can't divide from race or gender. It would be brilliant to hear a wider range of voices, and have more role models to inspire people to get into games.”
Dream Reality Interactive
Anna Hollinrake was recognised as a Breakthrough Brit by BAFTA in 2017. She's admired not only for her strong artistic vision but also her leading voice on issues including mental health and LGBTQ rights.
Her initial attraction to games came from her admiration for their aesthetics, although she soon became equally enamoured with games' capacity for making a positive emotional impact. Anna intends to be right at the heart of things as “games realise their ability to help people empathise, connect, learn and heal”.
Adds Anna: “My ultimate aim, through all of my work, is to help people. It's not so much the art that I'm most proud of as it is the way I've had the opportunity to reach other artists, through speaking openly on my experiences studying art and the pressures and struggles that it brings.
“Discussing the challenges I've faced with mental health and burnout, and the positive response to that vulnerability from others, has been deeply rewarding.
“We're seeing a greater push toward diversity and inclusivity within development, and that can only allow for more creativity. Seeing that continue to expand would be the best possible outcome for the games business. We'd see more stories being told from many different walks of life, and ultimately inspire an even broader next generation of artists.”
Having at one stage aspired to be a 3D designer, Antonela's first job in games was as a functionality tester on Just Dance at Ubisoft Reflections. Having moved on to become a development tester on Watch Dogs, she stumbled upon the role of community management and quickly realised that was where her passion lay.
“Securing my first full time job in the industry before graduating back in 2012 was a very proud moment,” she says. “Getting your foot in the door is difficult and honestly, I couldn't quite believe I did it so quickly. Receiving that job offer was a very surreal moment. The many years of studying and working finally paid off.”
As global brand community manager at 505 Games she is described as “organised, pragmatic and enthusiastic” and has worked on eight games so far in her career, including hits such as Assetto Corsa and Laser League.
“The perception of this industry and games in general to the outer world could be improved and I honestly think it's up to us to do something about it,” she adds. “Not everyone takes this industry seriously or understands the benefits of games in general, and that's probably down to a lack of understanding more than anything else.
“None of us here are ever going to ‘grow out of games' and believe it or not, this is a ‘proper job.' It's an industry that must be taken seriously.”
Ashley Riza is a 3D artist who lives and works in London. For as long as she can remember she's been fascinated by video games, and especially how they are constructed.
“I thought it would be a dream come true to be involved in games someday,” she says. “I knew it was going to be a huge challenge, so of course it made me want it more.”
Ashley's CV includes work for companies including Ustwo, Disney, Pixar and Huawei. She's a part-time teacher of Game Art at South Thames College, a Women In Games Ambassador, a member of the BAFTA Games Crew and a judge for the National World Skills Competition. She is also experienced in both VR and AR art.
When asked about the change she would like to see in the games business, she replies: “For it to be more inclusive and diverse. It is getting there but we still have a long way to go. I would also love to see more games that bring something new to the table. There are so many very similar games out there.”
Indeed, Riza hopes to help inspire young women to get into the games industry and would someday like to be a lead artist on a project with her own team to manage.