Meet the 100 rising stars of the UK games industry
Check out our interviews with the winners of this year's GamesIndustry.biz 100
When she accepted a role at Bossa Studios on Worlds Adrift, Lana Zgombic moved to a third associate producer role in four years, having excelled in each and every one.
“I have had the privilege on working on some of the most creative and unique games, such as Chime Sharp, The Trail and now Worlds Adrift,” she says. “Being a part of those teams introduced me to new ways of experimenting with genres that already existed, to make them feel new and fresh. I have always wanted to make unique games that would stand out from the crowd and resonate with players.”
But Lana does so much more. In addition to her producing work, she is an organiser of the Guildford Global Game Jam, a STEM ambassador, and a BAFTA Crew member, as well as helping graduates seeking advice whenever possible. While she works towards a full producer role she hopes that these efforts will help to create a better atmosphere between players and the industry.
“I would like to see an improvement in the relationship between the developers and the players,” she says. “There is too much negativity between the two that makes it a very toxic environment. The more we understand about each other, and the more transparent and honest we get, we can work on improving our relationship.
“I would like to figure out a way for games to be a positive, fun and friendly environment for everyone.”
UKIE / Digital Schoolhouse
Despite joining UKIE's Digital Schoolhouse as a programme executive less than a year ago, colleagues have praised the impact she has already had on the initiative.
“Her enthusiasm and creativity bring added flair to the work that we do, helping as always to bridge the gap between industry and education to address the growing digital skills gap and prepare today's students for tomorrow's world,” said one colleague. “She's an amazing asset to the team, and no doubt has huge potential for growth and impact within the industry.”
Martin has a background working in charity and events with Hope for Children, and is applying her skills to help encourage more young people into programming. She describes her main responsibility as closing the digital skills gap, and would like to bridge the void between education and industry.
“We encourage teachers to implement what industry needs from the next generation, in the classroom,” she says. “This improvement is already happening but there's still lots more than can be done.”
Delivering the regional qualifiers across the UK as part of the schools' National Esports Tournament is, Martin says, her proudest moment so far as it helped engage a “phenomenal amount of students”, and even opened up career paths for many into the industry.
“This industry has boundless scope to create anything, anyone, anywhere, at any time,” Martin adds. “When such an engaging tool can then be used to inspire and educate, that's magic.”
Liam de Valmency
Liam is currently working on Media Molecule's highly anticipated Dreams and is described by the studio as a highly talented programmer. He joined the developer straight out of university, becoming their first ever graduate hire, and is playing a key part in creating many of the game's central systems such as animation and the editor tools.
“It's still the case that the majority of games in each year's gaming line-up are thematically centred around conflict and violence. While many of my favourite games fit that description, it seems a shame that our medium so heavily relies on a combative approach to play and artistic expression,” Liam explains.
“I'd love to see more studios, especially those in the AAA space, exploring a wider assortment of gameplay and narrative options. We need a more diverse range of experiences, created by a more diverse industry, and made for a more diverse player base.”
As well as being a BAFTA Crew member, he organises game jams in Guildford and also hosted a game jam project on the Disney Channel.
“While my ultimate goal is to start a studio and work on projects of my own design, the thing that makes me want to remain in this industry more than anything else is the people,” he adds. “I'd never felt particularly at home or part of a community until I joined the games industry. I'd love that to be a key focus of my continued progress over the next five years.”
“Liz is one of the most inspirational women I have ever met in my life – let alone the games industry," one of Liz's nominators said. "Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she leads the charge in inspiring all levels of ability to get involved. I cannot imagine a games industry without Liz Mercuri doing something amazing in it – anyone who hasn't noticed her work either hasn't met her yet or doesn't work in games.”
It was a passion for games and a fascination for the power they have over players that led Liz to a career in the sector. Her break came with the award of a Prince William Scholarship, which helped shape her studies and gave her a taste for a life in the industry.
She now works as an educational evangelist at Unity and is a regular feature at student game jams.
“I'd love to be able to help those who, like myself, suffered from low self-esteem,” Liz says. “We hear a lot about imposter syndrome and it is something that I feel needs to be tackled, whether this is through mentorship, studios having alternative therapies available to their staff or local hubs dedicated to tackling low self-esteem.
“It is awful to think that there is so much talent out there that wouldn't even think to try and work their dream job or in their favourite studio, just because they think that they aren't good enough when they are.”
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who has achieved as much in the games industry in just three years. Bevan is a STEM Ambassador, has consulted for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and has just been shortlisted for a WISE Award.
On top of that, having previously worked as a producer at BeefJack, she then co-founded developer Weather Factory with Alexis Kennedy. Her credits include Sunless Sea: Zubmariner and the mobile versions of Sunless Sea and Fallen London.
Says one nominee: “She is one of the most capable people I know in any task or field. She's incredibly sharp, driven and ambitious. She also has a wonderful talent of being able to use her empathy skills to make sure her dev team is feeling heard in tough situations."
Bevan would like to help improve the industry's understanding of the production process.
“I've seen numerous instances where people either didn't understand production or didn't respect it,” she says. “It may seem like the boring skeleton of a demonically creative body, but it's the reality that underpins everything we do. Borked production feels like a common cause for otherwise brilliant games running out of budget, or time, or failing even to launch.
“Teaching more people about the reality of games as a business would save many wonderful creations from an otherwise avoidable death, and many devs from a painful personal experience.”
Luciana's journey into the games industry brought her to London all the way from Brazil, with a stint in Canada along the way. In fact, she's always keen to be on the move, having already travelled to Portugal to give a talk on concept and pixel art.
As well as her artistic talents, she's described as positive and helpful, with one colleague saying: “Luciana's by far one of the most endearing pixel artists I've come across. She's currently working on Wargroove at Chucklefish, she is single-handedly adding charm and beauty onto an entire game with her art.”
Another described her as an inspiration to be around.
“I always loved art and making art, and after dabbling in different fields - graphic design, animation, illustration, and comics - games were the amazing medium that allowed me to express myself beyond just an image and, more importantly, collaborate with people from different fields and backgrounds,” Luciana adds.
“I want to keep creating and releasing games with friends that we are all passionate about. I'm happy to see where life will take me from that.”
Marketing whiz Lucy Barnwell has helped Warner Bros successfully launch some of its biggest titles in recent years, including Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Injustice 2 and various LEGO games – titles that she lists among her proudest achievements so far.
Colleagues praise her for the excellent set-ups and promotions secured at retail and campaigns that helped attract new customers, as well as supporting established ones. She plans to continue working on Warner Bros' biggest titles, especially on the relationship between the publisher and the retailers that are still vital in shifting its products.
“The games industry is an exciting and fast-changing place to be and I'd like to be at the forefront of this,” she tells us.
“I want to be able to give the consumer what they want before they even realise they want it.”
Far from viewing these titles merely as products to be marketed, Barnwell is a devoted gamer and has been determined to secure a career in the industry “from a very young age.”
“I have always had a passion for games,” she tells us. “I regularly beat my brother playing Super Mario on the Nintendo 64.”
Lucy will be one of the more recognisable people on this list for many. She's a natural on camera and, having started her career at Ginx, is now the face of much of GameSpot's video coverage. Her presenting abilities are matched by her exhaustive research and catchy writing, which finely balances tact and humour.
Lucy has also featured on the BBC and Sky News, as well as BAFTA projects.
“When I was growing up, I never had a fixed idea or goal of what I wanted to do for a career,” she says. “But it was while I was at university that I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of people working in the games industry, and I realised that being in that field would mean working alongside like-minded individuals on exciting projects and games that I'm deeply passionate about.
“I'm deeply and immensely proud of all of the work that comes out of GameSpot's London office. Despite being a small team, we consistently produce thought-provoking and entertaining content on all aspects of video game culture.”
“While the video game business is nowhere near perfect, I'm glad that that meaningful conversations about inclusivity and diversity are actively happening. I think we still have some ways to go, but what we have right now feels like it's acting as a force for change.”
As a person who needs to be passionate about what she works on, a career in games was a must for Lynne Liu.
“I've always loved games more than watching TV and films, and since discovering that it was actually possible for me to join the games industry, it was clear that that was where I should be,” she says. “I was lucky enough to find that working in games really is as fun as I had hoped, and I really appreciate the team focused culture that makes it that way.”
Lynne was the first hire at Pixion Games, which is a start-up working on mobile MOBA games. She is also an art director on Sketchbook Games' Lost Words, which scooped UKIE's Game of the Show award at Gamescom last year. Her CV includes employers such as TrulySocial and King. At the latter she worked on big titles such as Shuffle Cats and Farm Heroes.
“I have come out of some very dark times personally and emerged feeling and being the best I've ever been,” she adds. “I'm happy to have been able to positively affect the team culture at my current studio.
“I have seen too many people suffering needlessly in the past, as stress has been far too prevalent, so I will continue to do what I can to bring about more of the much-needed joy and laughter day-to-day to combat this.”
Lynne also recognises the benefits of achieving gender balance in games development and aims to encourage more young women to get involved as a result.
While the Yooka-Laylee studio is known for its core team of ex-Rare developers, Matt Griffin represents the cream of new talent Playtonic has discovered along the way. Joining the firm just days before its retro-style platformer released, Griffin had already made a name for himself working in audio design on multiple LEGO titles and indie hit Unbox: Newbie's Adventure.
For the latter, he created his own language for the various babble noises the characters make, along with over 1,200 sound effects and more than 90 minutes of original music. It's a career that has blended two of his favourite hobbies.
“Music and games have always been big passions of mine,” he says. “I used to spend ages learning how to play tunes from my favourite games on piano - and I still do. When I found out there were so many big games being made here in the UK, I felt I had to go for it.”
Joining Playtonic has been the highlight of his career so far, putting him on the same team as “some of the insanely talented people who made a lot of the games that got me interested in the first place.”
He continues: “I'm very happy with where I am at this stage in my career. If in the next five years I've got a few more games under my belt that people really enjoy playing and listening to, then I'd be even happier.”
When asked what he would do to improve the industry, Griffin points to the lack of work/life balance at some development studios.
“Deadlines are usually tight and overtime will probably always be a part of making games. But I'd like to see more of an effort made to keep this to a minimum,” he says.
Inward investment and business development administrator at Games London, Charlton began his career in the industry after working on film and media festivals.
“The speed of growth in the games industry excites me,” he says. “I'm relatively new to the industry, but I have discovered a very welcoming, collaborative and dynamic community which I am keen to remain a part of.”
Responsible for the Games Finance Market, a core part of the London Games Festival, Charlton has played a role in doubling the size of the event, delivering tens of millions of pounds of investment.
Improving the mainstream perspective of video games and busting stereotypes surrounding the industry and its subcultures is the main change Charlton would like to see happen in the industry.
“The London Games Festival is still in its infancy but growing and developing rapidly,” he adds. “In the next five years I would love to see the event grow to become a destination festival for both the industry and the general public.”
When not working on Games London's projects, Charlton has similar responsibilities with filmmakers at Film London, the Production Finance Market, and London Screenings.
As well as being heavily involved in BAFTA's Game Crews initiative, Melissa runs the BAFTA Young Game Designer programme and is tireless in her efforts to promote the games industry.
Says one voter: “She is probably working harder than anyone else and doing more to ensure the future diversity and inclusivity of our industry.”
Another adds: “Her perseverance and commitment are matched only by her kindness and willingness to help as many people as she can. She's bringing so many people into the industry at the bottom and helping all of those in the industry reach the top.”
Melissa still has a letter from Maxis she received age seven thanking her for a long list of ideas she had sent them, although she adds that she is still awaiting the release of Sim School.
“I built websites about games, ran Petz shows and lost large chunks of my teenage years to strategy simulations,” she says. “Yet, it was only in my mid-twenties that I realised I could actually have a career in games – it all just seemed to make sense. Why hadn't I thought of it before?
“I've found the industry to be one of the most welcoming and inclusive places to work. I'm incredibly lucky that my role involves welcoming and nurturing new talent - so I am constantly surrounded by the most fascinating and inspiring people.”
When the time came for Michael Lojko to choose which GCSEs to study, his spare time was divided between two games: Bungie's seminal first-person shooter Halo, and an unassuming little MMO from Jagex called RuneScape.
Today, Michael is a key game engine developer for Jagex, having started at the company back in 2013. It's all a far cry from the time he spent in medical software development, attending events like Animex and dreaming of finding a way to build a career in the games industry.
“I think it has to be my very first significant video game-related release into the world,” Michael says of his proudest achievement to date. “It was a really emotional moment. I'd go to Animex and dream about being a ‘real' part of it, but it was almost like I was pretending. To have something I could put my name to was liberating and affirming.”
Not only is Michael a valued member of the team at Jagex, he is also engaged with helping and advising the next generation of game developers, working with UKIE, the Prince's Trust and a range of colleges and universities.
“There's so much toxicity thrown around between players and genders,” he says. “As the business becomes more of an art, we have to be responsible for improving the culture surrounding it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you want to be a part of it, you belong.”
Just this month Molly Carroll began her new role with Valve on the Steam Business Team after six years as a marketing and communications manager with publisher Chucklefish.
During her time at the firm, she worked on seven titles, including hits Stardrew Valley and Starbound. She has worn numerous hats for Chucklefish, and developed skills in marketing, dev relations, graphic and web design, PR and project management.
It was a lifelong interest in games and the people who make them that attracted her to the industry, and she considered her proudest achievement so far making it to where she is now.
“After graduating high school, I felt a little aimless,” she says. “Instead of going to college, I took on various part-time jobs; stuff like baking, arranging flowers, selling books. It was difficult for me to see a path from there into the games industry.”
Having only recently taken on a new job with Valve, Carroll isn't sure where she wants her career to take her just yet.
“It's hard for me to answer this right now, because I'm at a place where I feel like I could go in any number of directions.” she says. “I hope I'll be making positive contributions to the games industry.”