League of Legends gets World of Warcraft Veteran game designer

World of Warcraft veteran leaves Blizzard to join RIOT Games as League of Legends developer.

Greg Street

Former World of Warcraft lead systems designer Greg Street has updated his LinkedIn profile to reflect that he is now a lead game designer at Riot Games.

The Linked profile doesn’t indicate the project he is working on at Riot Games. In a post on his Twitter account, Street alluded to the change but implied it would be some time before he provided more clarification on it.

“Thank you for all the recent tweets, but I think the appropriate thing for me to do is lie low for awhile,” Street said. “I won’t vanish forever. Cheers.”

Street, also known as Ghostcrawler on the World of Warcraft forums, had been with Blizzard for nearly six years when he left last month. Prior to that, he worked at Microsoft’s Ensemble Studios as the lead game designer on Age of Empires III.



Game devs ditching mobile in favor of PC, console?

“I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole” – we chat with several devs about the challenging mobile market.

The mobile and tablet market has grown tremendously in the last several years. The number of apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play is downright mind boggling, and if you’re an app developer… well, best of luck to you. As the new survey from App Developer Conference organizers revealed this week, piracy and discoverability are making it incredibly hard to succeed. Nearly half of the app developers surveyed made no profit at all.

So the question has to be asked: after years of flocking to mobile, are developers actually retreating to the PC and console space? Devs GamesIndustry International spoke with were torn on this, but none would deny the massive challenges of developing apps today.

“I speak with lots of mobile devs regularly and most are moving away or at least thinking of it, either to other platforms or out of the trade completely,” Paul Johnson, managing director and co-founder of Rubicon, told us. “Having to give your game away for 69 cents a throw (after Apple’s and Google’s cut) and then competing with 1000 new apps each day is hardly a draw for anybody. We’ve reached a point now where even those slow on the uptake have realized the goldrush is over. It’s actually been over for a few years.”

Jeffrey Lim, producer, Wicked Dog Games, agreed: “The mobile space offers certain advantages, like having the largest customer base and relatively low development costs. However, there’s no doubt it is getting harder to be profitable with the ongoing piracy and discoverability issues.”

“We do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles”

Jeffrey Lim

“So yes, we do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles. The cost of self-publishing on these platforms has dropped significantly, and console makers are also making their platforms more indie-friendly now,” he added, alluding to efforts on next-gen systems like Sony’s PS4.

Chillingo COO Ed Rumley isn’t quite of the same mind as Johnson and Lim, but as a publisher, Chillingo has noticed that too many developers simply are failing to make high quality games, so it’s no wonder that their titles are being ignored.

“The number of games being submitted is growing, as is the number of developers contacting us. I’m not sure if some are being scared away, but we know from experience that some developers underestimate the time and quality it takes to make it in mobile now. Consumers are a savvy bunch and spot second rate games a mile off. You can’t just knock something together in your spare time, upload it and wait for the money to roll in anymore,” he warned.

Michael Schade, CEO, Fishlabs Entertainment, acknowledged the big challenge in mobile, but he doesn’t think developers are going to have to look elsewhere.

“Sure, mobile’s not an easy market to breach into, but then again, which market really is? No matter what business you’re in or what product you’re trying to sell, you’ll always have to work hard to gain your ground and make a name for yourself,” he noted. “So that alone shouldn’t scare you away from mobile, especially when you keep in mind that no other platform in the history of digital entertainment has ever evolved faster and born more potential than mobile! With more than a billion smart connected devices in use and hardware capabilities on par with current-gen gaming consoles, today’s smartphones and tablets constitute by far the most widespread, frequently used and innovative gaming platform the world has ever seen.”

Schade also remarked that the last few years of veteran developers getting into the mobile scene has made things more difficult. “The fact that more and more established PC and console veterans open new mobile gaming studios and more and more traditional publishers port their titles to iOS and Android, doesn’t make it easier for one particular company or product to stick out. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it clearly shows that the trend goes towards mobile, rather than away from it,” he said.

For every developer we spoke with, the discoverability issue reared its ugly head. There’s no doubt that this is a major concern. While building a high quality game can help, it’s simply not enough. In the world of apps, you cannot let the game do the talking for you.

“I think many developers have the misconception that it’s simply enough to release the game and let it speak for itself. They underestimate the importance of a marketing/PR campaign leading up to the game’s launch,” Lim stressed. “As a result their games fail commercially; not because of the quality, but due to lack of visibility. Hence the marketing/PR campaign should be seen as an integral part of the game’s development. An appropriate portion of the overall budget and effort should be allocated to increasing the game’s visibility, and if developers do not have the experience or time in marketing/PR they should consider hiring professionals in this area to lend a hand.”

Gree vice president of marketing Sho Masuda concurred that marketing is becoming crucial to mobile success. “They have to spend more time thinking about marketing and post-launch efforts in addition to building the the games. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools and services available for devs of all sizes to ensure that they can get the direction and support they need in these areas. Additionally, the mobile dev community is a very, very tight knit community and there is an amazing level of information sharing and support,” he said. “We encourage mobile devs of all sizes to talk to their peers, take advantage of all the meet-ups and events, and get to know all the services available to help get eyeballs on their games.”

A number of devs also believe that platform holders have a larger responsibility that they’ve been shirking so far. “For platform holders (e.g. Apple’s App Store), they can start to curate apps released on their store because there are too many clones of existing games that are taking up the traffic. They could attempt something like Steam Greenlight; although it is still an imperfect system, it’s better than not having any curation at all,” Lim commented.

Paul Johnson agreed, telling us that he’d really like platform holders to have a much more active role, as the discoverability issue has “about reached terminal” for unknown devs.

“If Apple don’t pick your game out for a feature, and you can’t drum up enough interest before launch yourself, then I’d say you’re pretty much screwed. It doesn’t matter how good your game is if nobody ever sees it and downloads it. They can’t tell their friends about something they themselves don’t know about!” he stated.

If Apple spotlights your game, you’re golden

“The only thing I think the platform holders could do to help is stop allowing crap to be released. There’s only so much space for features and the end users only have so much effort in them to look under all the categories all the time, so I really don’t think adding more of them would help much. Maybe more apps for shorter times, but this is all a drop in the ocean really.”

“The one thing I’ve come up with that would make a real difference is for the platform owners to charge five grand for a developer license. All the utter crap would disappear and there’d be less apps fighting for space,” he continued. “And the end-users wouldn’t have to waste time downloading the crap as nobody who makes stuff they don’t believe in would dream of fronting that license fee. It’s Draconian but it’s really the only thing I can see having any noticeable effect. Anything else is just lip service.”

Discoverability issues aside, another major – and possibly growing – problem for devs to contend with is piracy. The App Developer Conference survey showed that 26 percent of devs had their apps pirated and a similar amount even had in-app purchases stolen.

James Vaughan told us, “Plague Inc. has a piracy rate of about 30-35 percent, which equals millions and millions of copies, but I don’t consider piracy to be a problem; it is simply a fact of life and I don’t get too worked up about it. Piracy is a byproduct of success and I choose to focus on the success which has resulted in piracy rather than the piracy itself. (The best way to stop your game from being pirated is to make a crap game!) I focus on continually improving and updating Plague Inc. which makes the game even more valuable to the people who have brought it (and encourages pirates to buy it as well).”

For those devs who actually do lose sleep over piracy, there are some ways to combat it, Lim said.

“If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole”

Paul Johnson

“There’s no question that piracy is prevalent, and I think it will continue to be so for a long time to come. In fact, with high-speed Internet access and the wide spread use of file-sharing software nowadays I think this problem is going to get worse,” he observed.

“The first way to deal with piracy is to implement the appropriate business model, and I think free-to-download with micro-transactions is the right way to go. Making the game free for download can work to our advantage; it allows us to reach out a larger customer base. And if players are hooked by the game, they can be enticed to buy additional high-quality content for a minimal price.”

“The second way would be to build a strong rapport with our customers – e.g. through frequent interactions on social media, events or even email. Developers of notable games (e.g. Hotline Miami and Game Dev Tycoon) have addressed piracy in this manner. By having a loyal customer base which is appreciative of our efforts in delivering quality content, they would empathize with us and be more willing to pay for the games in support of our development efforts.”

The good news for iOS devs, at least according to Schade, is that Apple’s store is less prone to piracy. “Having lived through the ‘dark ages’ of Java and made it out of there with two black eyes rather than one, piracy has been a very delicate topic for us at Fishlabs ever since. Based on our own experience, however, it is not as much of an issue on the App Store as it is on other platforms,” he noted. “I guess that’s mostly because Apple still has a lot of ‘premium’ customers willing to pay for high-quality content. Of course, we’re well aware of the fact that neither the closed iOS environment nor the Free-2-Play model will ever be able to eradicate software piracy entirely, but at least they are doing a comparatively good job at containing it as good as possible.”

If developers can effectively navigate the problems of discoverability and piracy, there’s no doubt that the potential is massive. One look at the overwhelming success of Angry Birds, Temple Run, Clash of Clans and others proves what’s possible. But for the vast, vast majority of devs, that’s a pipe dream.

“From the consumer angle, it’s a golden age. The amount of good quality games that can be bought for laughable prices is fantastic and there’s a ton of money being spent on this platform as a result. The problem for developers is that each individual cut is tiny. This isn’t even remotely sustainable and I don’t know what the future is going to look like. If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole,” said Johnson.



Sony: “We’re seeing the birth of a new wave of next-gen developers”

If you’re not an independent developer there’s a chance you might not have heard the name Shahid Ahmad until he took the stage at this year’s Sony Gamescom press conference. He admits his appearance was a bit last minute, a bit unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. As senior business development manager at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe he’s in charge of strategic content for all the Sony platforms.

Q: How does it feel to be leading the indie charge for Sony?

Shahid Ahmad: The interesting thing is that it’s the indies who are leading the indie charge. It’s certainly very exciting to be involved with so many of them, and it’s a position that can easily change for any platform holder or any publisher for that matter. You have to keep working at it.

It’s a position that we respect. It has only come about as a result of us respecting our partners, many of whom now are independent developers.

Q: And have you seen an increase in the number of people contacting you since Gamescom?

Shahid Ahmad: The interest has been incredible and not just in our approach to independent developers and our perceived greater openness, but just in the platforms, Vita, PlayStation 4, has been huge.

“Vita does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device”

Q: It seems that Vita has evolved to become natural home for indie developers…

Shahid Ahmad: About a year ago, shortly after I took on the challenge of bringing games to Vita, it seemed like a difficult challenge. But it does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device. That screen is amazing. It kind of suits that intimate experience. A lot of indies are making very intimate experiences and completely new types of game.

I think one of the interesting things for me was that if you weren’t going to necessarily get games first on Vita that when they appeared on Vita they were going to be best on Vita. And more and more people – not just me [laughs] – thankfully are coming to that conclusion, and that’s really gratifying.

It’s fulfilling the ambitions of a lot of independent developers and I’m really excited about that. I think everyone at PlayStation is excited about that.

Q: Looking at the example of Mike Bithell who put Thomas Was Alone on Vita, and is now working on Volume for PS4, does Vita act as a stepping stone for indie developers onto console?

Shahid Ahmad: There are quite a few developers who are quite happy to stay with Vita and not see it just as an entry point. But obviously people are going to be excited about PlayStation 4 – who isn’t? It’s generated a lot of excitement across the whole industry, not just with independent developers. But I think there’s a sense with a lot of independent developers that they have more access – or not so much more access but a sense of more openness – from PlayStation, and the very idea that they can develop for PlayStation 4 is very exciting for them.

Thomas Was Alone

And for us it’s not news, you know. Mark Cerny said over and over again that it was developers that helped to shape the design of the PlayStation 4, and of course a lot of the indies that we’re working with came from a AAA background as well. So they’re not all brand new developers.

Q: What areas do you find the indies you work with need support in? What’s your approach when dealing with them?

Shahid Ahmad: Traditionally we’ve been very much a B2B type company when it comes to developers and publishers. The reason for that is PlayStation 2 was huge and we needed to find systems and processes that would help us to work with as many partners as possible, while also keeping the quality levels up.

With indies it’s much more a case of the onus of quality, and the onus of creating a really good experience is on them. They take that responsibility very, very seriously. So there are two things: first of all we have to make the process easier for them – we’ve done that and we’re continuing to do that.

A lot of these people absolutely love PlayStation. For them it’s a dream to be on PlayStation and that kind of takes us by surprise as well, because that’s not a typical B2B-type behaviour. It’s very much an individual and a fan-type behaviour, so the interesting thing that you’ve got going on here is a fan of PlayStation on one side of the table, another fan of PlayStation on the other side of the table.

That’s new and it’s very exciting, but the thing is some of those legacy processes still remain so our job is to try and make navigating those processes as easy as possible for the developers we’re working with. They’re not used to that level of process.

Q: And is that just a case of being on call when you’re needed?

Shahid Ahmad: Very much a case of being on call but also of giving them as much help as we can. We’ve got excellent facilities that not a lot of people know about. We’ve got a developer relations team that are constantly available to help with basic account management issues, and then we have R&D who help with engineering issues and technical issues. All of that stuff is free once you’re with PlayStation. Not a lot of people are aware of that.

But us too, in the biz dev side, being available on Skype, being available on email, being available on the phone or in person, that’s really really important. It’s all about the relationships now.

Q: So what does your typical working day look like?

Shahid Ahmad: There is no typical working day. I wish there was. Because we’re working with so many partners they keep things very, very interesting for us. Lots of discussion with developers on all kinds of social media. I think we’re most visible on Twitter, but there’s also a lot that goes on behind the scenes on Skype and email and on the phone.

“Our job is to try and make navigating those legacy processes as easy as possible for the developers”

Then the team is obviously working on production issues for games that are actually being developed, helping developers with new things… The great thing about working with so many new partners is that they’ve all got different things that they want to bring to the table, so every situation is unique.

So it’s navigating through the complexities of creating a full-blown console title and helping the developer do that, the team is heavily involved in that kind of thing as well. Meetings, going to events, talking about new projects, scouring the world for new developers and for existing developers working on new things. There’s never a typical day.

Q: And with finding new developers is it a case of hunting down promising games online, or do people come to you?

Shahid Ahmad: There was a lot more direct prospecting, if you like, over a year ago. I think it’s a bit more indirect now, because you get so much through social media, referrals, people vouching for other people or other ideas. If you want to call it a community, the indie community is very, very well connected. The great thing is about a year, a year and a half ago, we weren’t working with so many of them, and now we’re working with most of them.

There’s definitely a case of if Mike [Bithell] comes to us and says, ‘listen, I think this is fantastic,’ and we already have it on our list – or even if we haven’t, and there are other people saying, ‘this is fantastic, these guys really know how to make great games and this is one to watch out for’. That is going to accelerate our interest.

It’s really important to realise that the indies we’re working with don’t act as gatekeepers, but if we’re looking at a title and someone we’re working with and we trust says it’s definitely worth looking at, of course that’s going to make it a bit more interesting to us.

Q: How has social media changed the way you work? You’re a vocal presence on Twitter

Shahid Ahmad: I think showing a lot of respect is very important. I think not reading too much into 140 characters is also important. It’s very easy to jump on something and to have a take in 140 characters of text that might get you into trouble. It’s much easier just to ask a follow-up question. Just to be really, really careful not to knee-jerk react to stuff and to follow-up and be considerate and respectful of other people.

2Frobisher Says

I wasn’t always like that, but as things got more engaging at PlayStation you have to be more careful. I think we’ve just about managed to get that balance right.

It’s all on the public timeline, and that’s one of the ways we’ve been quite different, I think. Just how much more open we’ve been in the public eye. It’s easier to do that when the direction the company is taking is in alignment with how you’re interacting with people publicly.

So internally as well there’s a drive towards the stuff that’s being talked about externally. There’s a congruence about PlayStation at the moment. It’s not just me. Look at Yoshida-San, for example – he’s amazing. What a figurehead, and this was inconceivable a few years back.

I think there’s just been this really great congruence, where the whole company has been becoming a bit more open. I say a bit more open because we weren’t actually as closed as people think we were before. But the important thing is we’re talking more about it and we’re backing up our talk with action. It is a double-edged sword. There will be times when things are picked up negatively by people, and that’s a cause of heart attacks for the PR manager at times, but it hasn’t happened too often, thankfully. The best thing to do in that situation is if people have got questions they’ll ask you and you can give them a clarification, but if not you’ve just got to leave it, because people are going to make what they will of what you say.

So there is that double-edged sword, but on the upside it does mean that PlayStation gets a lot more attention, a lot more affection than before, because of the openness. I think it’s a price worth paying.

Q: And is that something, that public-facing part of development, you also offer indies support with?

Shahid Ahmad: Most of the best guys are better than I’ll ever be. They grew up in this space, so to them it’s as natural as breathing. I’m an old guy, I had to kind of get used to it. Take the likes of Rami [Ismail] from Vlambeer. The guy is an absolute professional. You wouldn’t think for a minute that he’s half my age – it makes me sick. [laughs] But he was literally born to do marketing for Vlambeer, and he’s incredibly measured, incredibly controlled.

Sometimes you see what someone is saying and and you think, ‘oh god, I wish you hadn’t said that’, but you’re not going to stop them because it’s part and parcel of learning how to become better at something. We don’t control them. I guess the motto you’ve heard us use over and over again is support, steer, don’t interfere. And certainly you’re not going to interfere in the way they run their marketing. We’ll support them, so for example with a lot of the games that are coming out through the store we’ve got them banner support and we’ve got blog posts up and that sort of thing.

Interfering would be trying to get them to say something they don’t want to say, and we’d never do that.

Q: Has your history as a developer helped when you’re working with indies?

Shahid Ahmad: It was such a long time ago I guess I was indie before there was such a thing as an indie. We were called bedroom programmers, which is obviously not as cool as being called an indie. I wish that tag had been around then.

I think it does help, on balance. And I think it helps because you’ve got more of an all-round perspective on their challenges, and occasionally there comes a time when you can answer a question or support them in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to do without that knowledge.

I’ve called it a Cambrian explosion. That’s exactly what it is because it’s way bigger, in my opinion. I don’t think everyone agrees with that, but I think it’s way bigger than it was in the beginning. Yes it was brand new in the early 80s, late 70s, but now it’s just enormous – it has come to mainstream attention.

“Right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers”

Q: Will the number of indies keep growing? Will we stop seeing a divide between AAA and indie?

Shahid Ahmad: I don’t see a divide. I see a continuum of one person creating a game and an enormous corporation creating a game. They’re just games. The tag is useful because I think it kind of bundles up a revolution that’s happened over the last few years, and the revolution has, I guess, three main legs. You’ve got digital distribution, you’ve got games everywhere and you’ve got better tools, and all of that has facilitated this explosion in the number of developers. I think it’s allowed more people to make games than ever before, and some of them are going to move on and do bigger things. They’re going to work with larger teams to do bigger things, and of course some of those teams will get bigger and bigger.

So right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers. Some of them will stay small, and I’m really pleased that we’re helping evolve PlayStation to a point where we’re as accommodating to the smallest developers as we are the largest. And the thing is we’ve done this in the past, so for example Minis was really, really good for smaller developers. PlayStation Mobile has also helped in some respects as well. And going back into the distant mists of time you’ve got Parappa The Rapper, Ico, Super Stardust HD. We’ve always dealt with this level of developer, it just wasn’t always as easy as we’ve made it [now], and we’re going to make it easier and easier.

So yes, hopefully in a few years time no one will be talking about indie in relation to games. They’ll just be talking about games, and it will be just as valid to have made something coming from a small developer as from a large.

Q: You’ve been involved with mobile, Move, Minis, Vita and the consoles. Is your role now one you had to create?

Shahid Ahmad: It’s a role I could only have dreamed of. It’s probably the greatest job in video games today. I don’t think anyone could have a more exciting position. I think the first 30 years of my career were preparation for this last year and a half.

Yes, the company has recognised the shift in landscape, but we’ve always done that, we’ve always responded. The way we dealt with publishers in the PS2 era was a response to the environment we had at the time, a response to our dominant position and with digital distribution. We were dealing with small developers back in 2007 as well, publishing games on the PS3 on the PlayStation Network by two-person teams.

It’s just become so prevalent now. It’s not just a few professionals with extremely high levels of technological skill that can do this. You don’t have such a high barrier to entry from the technology side. Just about anyone can make games now.

Q: And finally, Beyond The Final Boss, tell me about that?

Shahid Ahmad: That’s outside of my work at Sony, but I guess the goal is to show youngsters that, no matter how bad bullying gets for them that there are a bunch of people out there that overcame bullying and are enjoying a quality of life they never expected to enjoy.

One of the things that’s very difficult for someone being bullied as a youngster to accept is that life can get better. There’s this unbearable blackness and a sense that it’s never going to end, it’s never going to get better. So the goal of Beyond The Final Boss was to gather a bunch of individuals from every part of the games industry who’d experienced bullying when they were younger, and for them to describe how much better life is for them [now]. That they’re enjoying a life experience that their younger self could never have imagined was possible, and in doing so give them hope.

And it was set up because I noticed a discussion on Twitter between my friends Byron Atkinson Jones [director of Xiotex Studios Ltd] and Mike Bithell, who were talking about bullying and how they’d wished that they had been able to address their younger selves in some way, and I thought this needs to be done now.

So I immediately got the ball rolling and set the whole thing up. There’s no money involved, it’s just a website where we feature a load of profiles from people who were bullied, who are involved in games in some way and whose lives are just way better now. Our only goal is to get these profiles out to as many youngsters as possible and that’s it. We don’t ask for donations, there’s no official charity set up, it’s just a website and the only goal is to get some hope out there to some of these youngsters who otherwise don’t have that.


Lionhead dev: “I don’t want to sit in a studio full of blokes”

Gary Carr thinks gender balances are beginning to shift in the development workforce

Gary Carr

Lionhead’s creative director has predicted the industry will see a more even and more balance of genders in the next five to ten years.

“I don’t just want guys making games for guys. I want guys and girls making games for guys and girls,” Gary Carr told OXM.

“You have to reflect that in your workforce, and it’s starting to happen. I think that five to ten years from now, it’ll be pretty much 50-50.”

Lionhead is currently at work on Fable Legends, which it revealed at Gamescom. Alongside Carr on the studio’s management team are John Needham and Louise Murray.

“I think as developers, in terms of job applicants, we’re noticing now that we’re at last getting the diversity we want when you’re coming up with a creative team. I don’t want to sit in a studio full of blokes, I want to be part of a diverse team.”

So change is coming, but slowly. Back in April Game Developer Magazine’s annual survey painted a depressing picture, with women as low as 4 per cent of headcount in some disciplines, receiving lower salaries in all but one area.



Rumor: PlayStation 4 Gives 4.5GB of RAM to Game Developers, With an Additional 1GB Optional “Flexible Memory”


We all know that the PlayStation 4 will be packed with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, but Sony has yet to officially confirm how that RAM will be split between games and the Operating System.

Digital Foundry claims “a well-placed development source” provided them with current PlayStation 4 documentation that shows that there will be 4.5GB available to developers. ‘Further sources’ suggest that an additional 1GB of “flexible memory” may be reclaimed from the OS reservation, based on availability.

4.5GB is already what the Killzone: Shadow Fall demo used, and, if the rumor is true, will be what most launch titles will use. But the extra gig can be requested by developers to boost certain elements of the game, and Sony may allow it if the background OS can spare it. However “incorporating this isn’t trivial”, with possibly only first-party developers targeting its usage.

The rumor that the PS4′s OS RAM reservation of 3.5GB is similar to (and even than) the Xbox One’s 3GB reservation differs from previous reports of only 512MB, but they existed back when the PS4 was set to have only 4GB GDDR5 overall. DF’s sources say that this extra RAM allocation will allow for seamless switching between apps and games, akin to what Microsoft demonstrated with the One.

DF also says that Microsoft plans to keep the 3GB allocation to allow for OS changes over 10 years, but that Sony may be open to reducing it once the operating system is complete and has been streamlined.