Meet the 100 rising stars of the UK games industry
Check out our interviews with the winners of this year's GamesIndustry.biz 100
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The challenges of developing for virtual reality have been well documented, but less is discussed about reaching the audience. Enter the talented Nadine Oehmcke, digital distribution manager at NDreams and, according to her colleagues, an instrumental part of the company's evolution into one of the world's leading VR firms.
Tasked with seeking out new revenue channels for the company, Oehmcke has helped launched some of the studio's most important titles, from PlayStation VR game The Assembly to recent hit Shooty Fruity.
“The way fantasy and imagination can be expressed has always fascinated me,” says Oehmcke. “With VR entering the market, I believe that there is no other concept that can immerse you deeper into a games story and world that you can otherwise only dream about. Understanding the potential of VR, I am exhilarated to be part of the industry.”
Like so many on this list, she is a fierce advocate for diversity in the industry, regularly working with non-profit organisation Women In Games to help raise awareness about careers in games development.
Looking at her own achievements, Oehmcke remains proudest of launching The Assembly, her first major foray into VR. Within six months, she became familiar with the still-developing VR market and strove to create some innovative publishing ideas to ensure the game's success – something she continues to do today.
“I see VR as the future of gaming. Its potential to go mass market across various business sectors within the next few years is exciting and opens up endless business opportunities,” she says.
Known to readers of Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, Polygon and more, Natalie Clayton is a fierce proponent for better representation across the industry - both within its games and the teams behind them. Having written several pieces on the subject, she turned her hand to independent development, resulting in the award-winning Transit: a title that explores the topic of gender identity.
Her interest in development stretches back to tinkering with the level editing tools for titles such as Half-Life 2 and Unreal Tournament, but while she praises how accessible games development has become in this indie-driven age, Clayton believes there is more to be done in ensuring new creative voices are heard.
“Finding a way to make smaller-scale development more viable is going to become more and more important over the next few years,” she says. “If that's with more funding for games as arts, or better curation of digital storefronts - there are some hyper-talented people working on tiny, weird games, and I want to see them succeed.
Although Clayton's career, in her own words “straddles the line between writing about games and making them”, it's the former in which she managed her proudest accomplishment so far.
“Writing for Eurogamer, I took the Overwatch League to task over the apparent diversity gap between the world the game presents, and the culture around Overwatch's esports scene,” she explains. “Through this, not only did I get great feedback from Jeff Kaplan and Nate Nanzer at Blizzard; I was able to elevate the voices of fans who had felt marginalised. Through both my words and my games, I hope to provide space for under-represented voices to be heard within the games space.”
Despite only having worked in games for a short time, Olivia's reputation is already rapidly growing. Not only was she named as BAFTA's Breakthrough Brit, but her work has been described as “inspirational” by Brenda Romero.
With a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, Olivia initially trained as a barrister before realising it was not the career for her. She then shifted to book publishing and her passion for narrative eventually led her to the door of Sunless Skies and Fallen London developer Failbetter.
She was also a contributor to Dim Bulb Games' award-winning Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.
“I'm proud to be seen as significant – I've been pushing for editors to get more recognition in gaming, and feel I'm making headway with this,” she says. “Editors are crucial for the writing process, but they've largely been ignored within video games – bringing more on board can only make games better.
“On a personal level, I was delighted by the fan reception of the first ‘exceptional story' I designed and wrote for Failbetter Games. I was trusted with a large amount of freedom when creating it and the fans' enjoyment proved that this was justified.”
Picture Credit: BAFTA/Charlie Clift
Purewal & Partners
An associate at the London-based legal firm Purewal & Partners, Peter Lewin is already known to many in the UK games industry for his advice on all manner of complex matters – from protecting intellectual property to regulatory and gambling concerns. He has been a key player in securing several multi-million dollar game publishing deals, as well as some of the largest esports player transfers to date.
Asked for the highlight of his career, Lewin says he enjoys “working closely with and advising the senior management of the world's leading digital entertainment businesses – many of whose games I long admired before even entering the industry.”
A long-standing love for video games and the creative visionaries behind them has compelled Lewin to seek new ways to offer support and advice, regularly presenting guidance at events such as EGX, EGX Rezzed, Develop:Brighton and BAFTA.
“I'm a big believer in knowledge sharing, and events like these give me the opportunity to reach a really wide and diverse audience,” he says.
Diversity is a key goal for the up-and-coming associate, with Lewin keen to contribute however he can to making the industry as accessible as possible.
“While not a problem confined to games alone, this is still a massive issue, with women and BAME groups massively underrepresented - particularly in technical roles,” he says. “Many companies have developed valuable initiatives to begin trying to remedy this, but more can and should be done by the industry as a whole. Change might be slow and require review at an institutional level such as the accessibility of computer science and programming classes for all children, but there is more we as an industry could be doing right now, which will ultimately lead to greater innovation, inclusivity and sustainability.”
During her university studies, Polina Vasiljeva had the opportunity to work at Candy Crush creator King, where she was impressed by the “fun and friendly culture” the company had cultivated.
Now a fully established member of the team, Vasiljeva has already made significant contributions to King's various titles in several data-oriented roles, driving the analysis of new live features, handling data migration from an on-premise platform to the cloud and improving the game experience for King's millions of users.
Passionate about the work she does, Vasiljeva says she was attracted not only to King but also the games industry in general because “it combines both science and creativity.”
She continues: “My strategy so far has been to identify things that I genuinely enjoy doing – right now it's data science and engineering – and do more of it. So I'll continue with that and see where it takes me.”
Rachael spent seven years qualifying as an architect while a voice in the back of the head told her that it wasn't quite right for her.
“I'd devour game after game as a teenager, and each time I'd watch the credits roll and wonder who all of these magical people were that made this game and how I could possibly join them” she says. “I longed to be able to help create that special spirit and core essence of a video game that evoked so much joy in myself and my friends playing them.”
Spurred on by her interests, a speculative application for a games tester role at Sony paid off. With plenty of AAA experience under her belt, Rachael went on to become a producer at Ripstone, where her talents in a number of fields blossomed.
She now finds herself at OlliOlli and Not a Hero developer Roll7, and is producing the upcoming Laser League.
“I would advocate for more transparency and honesty in the industry as a whole,” she adds. “On a studio scale, I've personally found that encouraging this in your business can lead to much better staff retention and an improved relationship between staff and the company as an entity.
“Actions like this will not only champion new recruits to your business if they successfully join, but will also work towards closing the gender pay gap that is still so prevalent in the video game industry right now.”
Games For The Many
Despite being just 24, Rosa is not only a BAFTA Crew member but also a Tech London Advocate, a Develop 30 Under 30 star, and a Women in Games ambassador. She's also a GamesAid trustee, and her stint there as an intern led to the organisation's most successful fundraising period.
Many people will have encountered Rosa through the numerous game jams she has organised. Perhaps her most notable achievement, however, is co-founding developer Games for the Many which hopes to develop games with overtly political overtones that can educate, subvert and inspire.
“I came to games quite late. I never owned a games console and the first ‘proper' games I played were Portal 2 and Assassin's Creed in 2011,” she says. “During my architecture undergraduate course I realised I could build a career in games. Like architecture, games require an understanding of psychology, sociology, literature, physics, logic and art, but unlike architecture, games can be built by one person over the course of a weekend.
“Games tap into our instincts - play, storytelling and imagination go deep into our ancestral roots - but games also require new technologies and skills we didn't even know existed a handful of years back. They're machines that make us feel. Game developers create poetry out of computation. I fell in love with that paradox.”
Rosie was plucked from Disney thanks to her “incredible organisational and artistic talents”.
As well as being a Women in Games and STEM Ambassador, her credits include indie sensation Stardew Valley as well as Starbound, Evermoor and a range of Disney hits. Rosie regularly lectures and speaks at events.
“I've always been obsessed with creating miniature worlds in which to tell stories and experience other lives,” she says. “As a teenager I loved playing simulation games - Black & White, Theme Park World, The Sims. I've always found the idea of game making very approachable. I come from an art background so, to me, games are just a new art form - but one which allows for possibilities like no other.
“I started off creating miniature worlds as a child by cutting characters and buildings out of paper, and now, through digital games, I can create worlds that feel truly alive and share them with countless others. It makes sense to me to make games over other forms of art.”
Rosie would also love to solve the problem of indie game visibility, adding: “So many lovingly handcrafted games go unplayed and unseen by the masses. I'm passionate about introducing this audience to games I know they'd love, and uniting lesser-known games with the audiences they deserve.”
Roz Tuplin is one of the leading members of the Games London team - the group of industry experts tasked with creating the London Games Festival (amongst other things).
Tuplin is a former arts and culture journalist, but as an avid gamer, was eager to become part of the interactive entertainment business. After a brief stint at the National Videogame Arcade, she joined Games London and has worked across all of the Mayor of London-supported activity which includes the London Games Festival and inbound and outbound trade missions.
“Being part of this industry is inherently exciting because it's a young industry and its identity is still being formed,” she tells us. “It isn't stuck in a particular way of being yet and as such there are so many opportunities even for newcomers to make a big difference.”
Tuplin is also dedicated to championing UK games culture, managing the London Games Festival Fringe and working to drive forward diversity projects from the early stages, including W.In (a networking event for women working in games) and Ensemble (an exhibition of work by BAME games creatives). .
“Our industry needs to have more vision and ambition for itself as a part of wider culture,” she continues. “I'm tired of discussions about “are games art?” yes, they are, obviously. So, are you going to make good art? We need stronger storytelling, diverse voices, and the ambition to show the world and the fustier cultural gatekeepers what we're made of.
London Games Festival is currently in its third year under its new guise, and it's massive undertaking that Tuplin is understandably proud of. However, Games London's real impact occurs behind-the-scenes, in finding investment for creators.
“I've enjoyed seeing the difference our work has made to even tiny indie microstudios who are able to find funding and publishing deals for the games they always dreamed of making,” she says.