Dr. Richard Wilson, new CEO of TIGA

31 01 2008

Richard Wilson, new CEO of TIGA

Richard Wilson (previously Head of Business Policy at the Institute of Directors) was unveiled as the new CEO of TIGA, The Independent Game Developers Association here in the UK, at the trade body’s annual awards dinner.

Wilson, ex Torie researcher, takes up the position in March, succeeds current CEO Fred Hasson.

“The appointments board was unanimous in selecting Richard for the post,” said TIGA chairman Ian Baverstock.

“He, like our current CEO Fred Hasson, has no previous games industry experience but has an impressive public affairs background and understands issues relating to industrial sectors.

“We think he has the right qualities to build on TIGA’s achievements to date and take the organisation forward.”

“I am delighted to have been appointed CEO of TIGA. It is a lean, innovative and effective trade association that does a magnificent job in serving the interests of UK games developers,” Wilson said.

“Fred Hasson has been an outstanding CEO and it is an honour to follow him in this role. I am looking forward to campaigning vigorously on behalf of TIGA members, further enhancing TIGA’s effectiveness and raising the profile of the UK games development sector.”

Richard was previously Director of Communications at the Royal Academy of Engineering (2006– 2008). As Director of Communications he had responsibility for the management of the Communications Department, the Academy’s public and media relations, the development and delivery of the Academy’s publications, the design and delivery of the Academy’s programme of events and oversight of its awards portfolio. He was also Secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Engineering Group. Richard was Head of Business Policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD) between 1998 and 2006. Here he played an important part in the work and management of the IoD’s Policy Unit. He authored numerous policy papers, delivered keynote speeches and was a regular media spokesman.

Prior to joining the IoD, Richard worked at the Conservative Research Department (1996 – 1998), where he provided support for Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet Ministers and MPs. Between 1995 and 1996 Richard worked as a political researcher for Andrew Lansley (now the Shadow Secretary of State for Health) and co-authored the book Conservatives and the Constitution.

Richard was educated at Reading University, where he gained a Ph.D. in political theory. He also taught politics at Reading University. Between 1999 and 2002 he was a governor of Christ the King Primary School in Berkshire. Richard is currently the Chairman of the Better Payment Practice Group, a public-private partnership that aims to improve the payment culture amongst businesses in the UK. He is also an independent director of the board of ‘Improve’, the Sector Skills Council that aims to raise the level of skills and training in the food and drink industry.

Mass Retraction

30 01 2008

Cooper Lawrence

Cooper Lawrence, the psychologist who savaged Mass Effect on Fox News last week, has issued a retraction of her statements. Quoted in the New York Times (link has reg wall), she said:

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Lawrence said that since the controversy over her remarks erupted she had watched someone play the game for about two and a half hours. “I recognize that I misspoke,” she said. “I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke.

“Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography,” she added. “But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.”

Fox, of course, are not so fair and balanced:

Electronic Arts, the giant publisher that owns Mass Effect, has asked Fox News for a correction. A Fox News spokesman would say only that Electronic Arts had been offered a chance to appear on the channel.

Intransigent media outlets notwithstanding, it’s great to see a games business fight back successfully against bad press and get some huge coverage in the process. Hopefully this will be a touchstone for further videogame controversies, causing people to question rather than swallow negative coverage and more easily take up opposition to it.

Turner Broadcasting Sponsors Dare to be Digital

24 01 2008

Turner Cartoon

Dare to be Digital seem to be doing excellently at the moment. We forgot to blog this a week or so ago, but Turner Broadcasting (a part of Time Warner, and owner of US games service GameTap) will be sponsoring them in 2008:

“[Turner Broadcasting’s] support is a huge boost to our plans to raise GBP 1 million to support Dare to be Digital for the next two years, and a measure of how seriously the contest is now regarded by major creative and media businesses around the planet,” commented Paul Durrant, director of Dare to be Digital.

“We plan to greatly increase the scope of this year’s competition, with almost twice as many students as in 2007, taking part in several host centres across the UK and perhaps even overseas as well,” he added.

Mass Effects

24 01 2008

Mass Effect

Mass Effect recently received a proper hatchet job from Fox News and a writer named Cooper Lawrence, who’d never seen or played the game but leveled various accusations at it. EA have actually mounted an incredibly cogent defense, first seen here at Kotaku:

Your headline above the televised story read: “New videogame shows full digital nudity and sex.” Fact: Mass Effect does not include explicit or frontal nudity. Love scenes in non-interactive sequences include side and profile shots – a vantage frequently used in many prime-time television shows. It’s also worth noting that the game requires players to develop complex relationships before characters can become intimate and players can chose to avoid the love scenes altogether.

FNC voice-over reporter says: “You’ll see full digital nudity and the ability for players to engage in graphic sex.”
Fact: Sex scenes in Mass Effect are not graphic. These scenes are very similar to sex sequences frequently seen on network television in prime time.

FNC reporter says: “Critics say Mass Effect is being marketed to kids and teenagers.”
Fact: That is flat out false. Mass Effect and all related marketing has been reviewed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and rated Mature – appropriate for players 17-years and older. ESRB routinely counsels retailers on requesting proof of age in selling M-rated titles and the system has been lauded by members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. In practical terms, the ratings work as well or better than those used for warning viewers about television content.

At the very end:

The resulting coverage was insulting to the men and women who spent years creating a game which is acclaimed by critics for its high creative standards. As video games continue to take audiences away from television, we expect to see more TV news stories warning parents about the corrupting influence of interactive entertainment. But this represents a new level of recklessness.

Do you watch the Fox Network? Do you watch Family Guy? Have you ever seen The OC? Do you think the sexual situations in Mass Effect are any more graphic than scenes routinely aired on those shows? Do you honestly believe that young people have more exposure to Mass Effect than to those prime time shows?

This isn’t a legal threat; it’s an appeal to your sense of fairness. We’re asking FNC to correct the record on Mass Effect.


Jeff Brown
Vice President of Communications
Electronic Arts, Inc.

Emphasis mine. You can watch the original Fox News segment here.

It’s quite astounding to see this letter after years of watching the games industry do an appalling job of defending itself, at best being merely litigious, at worst provocative and childish. It’s quite a big step for EA to take such a reasoned approach.

The same can’t be said of Mass Effect fans, but their reaction is quite a funny fulfillment of the words “Don’t fuck with the internet”:

Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk have recently seen a sudden influx of reader reviews on product pages attributed to Lawrence’s book ‘The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace with Your Inner Overachiever’ after she participated in the scathing attack against Mass Effect.


Currently 346 ‘one star’ reader reviews have hit the Amazon.com product page in the wake of the FOX News item, with gamers venting their spleens vehemently at Lawrence through a variety of damning criticisms against her and her book – including product picture submissions calling her reputation and credibility into question.

Last.fm: Free* Streaming Music

24 01 2008

Last FM music

Last.fm have struck a deal to allow free streaming of music and even full albums from their website. In a blog entry, they said:

As of today, you can play full-length tracks and entire albums for free on the Last.fm website.

Something we’ve wanted for years—for people who visit Last.fm to be able to play any track for free—is now possible. With the support of the folks behind EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner—and the artists they work with—plus thousands of independent artists and labels, we’ve made the biggest legal collection of music available to play online for free, the way we believe it should be.

Full-length tracks are now available in the US, UK, and Germany, and we’re hard at work broadening our coverage into other countries. During this initial public beta period, each track can be played up to 3 times for free before a notice appears telling you about our upcoming subscription service. The soon-to-be announced subscription service will give you unlimited plays and some other useful things. We’re also working on bringing full-length tracks to the desktop client and beyond.

Free full-length tracks are obviously great news for listeners, but also great for artists and labels, who get paid every time someone streams a song.

Emphasis mine: This could be a very good shift in favour of digital distribution and artist’s rights.

Technically, its a demo rather than “free” music, though as Toby pointed out: A downloaded track is 79p, so three plays is hardly that limiting.

SCi Analysis

23 01 2008


Nicholas Lovell does an analysis of recent events with SCi over at MCV. It has a good overview of the history and situation, along with a choice quote or two:

Some of these operational issues may have stemmed from the difficulties in adapting from running a small SCi to a significantly-larger Eidos with global reach. SCi’s management team built their reputation running a lean publisher with no in-house development and tight financial controls. The entire staff was small enough for senior management to know everyone by name. The acquisition of Pivotal Games, developers of the Conflict series, took SCi’s employee count to over 100, but with Eidos, management suddenly had to deal with over 700 staff spread around the world, including large and critical teams in San Francisco (Crystal Dynamics) and IO (Copenhagen).

The share price started a steep decline and the announcement in early January that all bid conversations had terminated, combined with a profit warning, led to a 50% collapse. In less than a year, SCi’s share price had fallen 90%. As the Financial Times said, “As a rule of thumb, when only Northern Rock is below you in the list of the FTSE All-Share’s worst-performing stocks, something needs to be done.”

Crysis London

23 01 2008


Digital Urban, at University College London, have been busy building a virtual London in the Crysis Engine. This impressive video shows St. Pauls and the Tate Modern:

Here’s the impressive part, from the comments over at Rock Paper Shotgun:

The movie is only a work in progress – as the blog states, although we feel crysis is impressive in the level of detail that can be achieved in only two days and thats including working out how to use it.

We will have a tutorial online sometime next week, fingers crossed…. its all about outreach and sharing the techniques.

Our London model goes out to the M25 covering 3 million buildings for those interested

It’s like a scaled up version of people using Quake or Unreal Tournament to make their schools and offices…

AI in Games Network

22 01 2008

Procedural content

Great post from Mark Morris of Introversion, about the inaugural meeting of the AI in Games Network. So far it involves three UK universities meeting a load of game developers. It’s difficult to pick out a highlight from the post, really, the whole thing is worth reading, but I especially like this part where he doesn’t mince words about the current state of industry-academic collaboration:

So why aren’t we seeing all these wonderful techniques in games now? Is it the fault of the men in T-shirts or those in white coats and what do we need to do to ease the passage of research from the lab to production-level video games? Having listened to the arguments from both sides, I’m going to take the blame and say it is industry that is providing the barriers. We constantly criticise the academics and say that their techniques would not work on real games, yet when they ask for some source code we tell them that there are “IPR” issues or that we do not have time to work with them. The very nature of research demands that most attempts will fail (or will almost certainly take longer than expected) and so we tell them that there is too much risk to let them near our precious games.

I’d like to see this change and I have a plan. Once we have finished and shipped a game, we send the source code across to the boffins with a list of super-hard problems that we failed to solve. They then use science to fix those problems and come back to us with a demonstration of their technique working. We then compare the new version of the game with the old and see if the AI has genuinely made an improvement. If it has, then we consider implementing it in the next game. It sounds simple and of course there will be details to work out, but that’s why we have an AI in Games Network.

Oh, and if anyone say’s it’ll never work – tell them the DEFCON AI is currently being turned into HAL 3000 by separate teams at both Imperial and Bradford.

Kudos to Introversion for thinking beyond product, and letting academics tinker with their code. I look forward to seeing what the AI in Games Network results in.

(Header image is made from Chris Delay’s procedural content generation write up).

Skillset Blog

21 01 2008


Skillset are blogging, we noticed recently, and there’s some good stuff there. Particularly, a post today about UK games industry salaries. The quote Develop:

the average salaries for artists, designers and producers have risen in the past 12 months – with some senior level producer and designer roles now commanding up to £10,000 per annum more than they did a year ago.

and commentate:

This all sounds good for the games workforce, but it can easily be seen as an indicator that positions are becoming harder to fill in the UK. If recruitment is a driver of salaries in general – and companies are having to offer more money to acquire the services of appropriately skilled employees it’s an indicator of a skills shortage in those areas. With experienced talent in demand, experienced games developers are evidently holding out for the best offer.

This has many implications – particularly with the UK becoming an comparatively expensive place to make games – but for skills it supports Skillset’s research indicating a shortage of high level staff and high level skills – our next job is to establish what to do to combat this shortage.

Battlefield Heroes

21 01 2008

Battlefield Heroes

EA are releasing a free downloadable game this summer, supported by ads in the front end, and microtransactions. Called Battlefield Heroes, it blatantly has the aesthetic of Team Fortress 2, but the focus seems to be on casual gamers who might be moving toward more complex games. It’s interesting to see an Asian business model coming to the West with the backing of such a big publisher. They appear to be taking the right approach so far too; it’s hitting a huge amount of “2008 relevance buttons”, as reported on the BBC:

Ben Cousins, senior producer at Dice, told BBC News that no adverts would be appear in the game itself.

“They wouldn’t work inside the fictional world. Instead, adverts will appear on the website and the ‘front-end’ of the game.”

Gamers will be able to buy items which customise their appearance in the world, but will not be able to seek an advantage through buying weapons.

Mr Cousins said Battlefield Heroes was about exploring new revenue models as well as making a game more accessible.

“I’ve always felt there was some really good fun core gameplay which was locked away by several barriers to entry: the game is complex, it is full of skilled people, you need quite a high-end PC on which to play and you need to go to store to purchase a copy.”

“We’re removing all barriers to entry and we hope there is broader audience for the title. You will be able to play this game on grandma’s laptop.”