Crayta, the game-creation title from Leamington Spa-based studio Unit 2 Games, is the first Stadia-exclusive title to truly feel soaked in Google’s cloud-gaming DNA.
It’s perhaps comparable to the likes of Wii Sports, or PS4’s PlayRoom – not necessarily genre-setting, but utilising the platform in such a way that it’s impossible to imagine the title existing elsewhere.
Because certainly, it isn’t the first game-creation title to hit the market. Just recently we saw the release of Media Molecule’s Dreams, while Roblox is a phenomenon.
But Crayta has a unique selling point – it is the first Stadia title to make use of the long-awaited State Share feature. Currently in Beta, State Share allows users to share a specific section of a game, or an in-game waypoint, via a simple URL, so others can jump in to that exact point.
Its marketing potential alone is interesting – put into the hands of YouTube influencers, it could see their huge audiences directed instantly into your game like never before. But its potential for a game-creation title like Crayta goes beyond that, allowing the games created on Unit 2’s platform to be massively collaborative efforts.
To find out how State Share Beta helps Crayta stand apart from its rivals, and how cloud gaming can change how we interact with and create our own games, we sat down with Unit 2 Games CEO Richard Smithies, publishing director Chris Swan, operations director Hannah Waddilove and Identity Spark CEO Natalie Griffith
WHAT A STATE
The introduction of State Share Beta allows users to work collaboratively on the games they create, wherever in the world they are – a crucial factor given COVID-19. An Engadget article prior to the game’s launch aptly described Crayta as a ‘Google Doc for game creation.’
“You know, it really is kind of like that,” begins Smithies. “It’s a bit weird to say that a lack of friction is a game changer, but it does make a lot of difference.
“We’ve got almost the accessibility of a Flash game, except it’s an Unreal-powered, high quality experience. This is such a differentiator. It’s less friction. It doesn’t sound quite as sexy, but it does mean a lot that you can literally get in almost immediately to play alongside people.
“We see it every day now, as we work with our community on Discord,” Smithies notes. “When someone has a problem, they just give us the State Share Beta link and we jump into the game alongside them and start taking apart their game. We can look at the code together and we can see where it’s gone wrong.
“Every time we do it, they go, ‘wow, that was cool! You just jumped in alongside me and helped fix my game!’ And it’s that kind of thing that really is making a big shift.”
“It’s great for content creators and stuff as well,” Griffith adds. “We see it on our own streams, our guys will make a fresh game with community suggestions in 90 minutes, a couple of times a week. And now that we’re live, they can then drop the State Share Beta link into the YouTube chat, and the people that made the suggestions can be straight in playing the game with them.
“That’s brilliant for us and our community but it’s also brilliant for influencers and other YouTube content creators who can do what they like within Crayta and bring their community with them straight away.”
FEATURES FOR ALL
As mentioned before, Crayta feels like the first Stadia game to take full advantage of the platform’s unique features. It not only sets it apart from other titles on Stadia’s storefront, but also, as a game creation tool, can offer those unique features to the games developed within Crayta itself.
“When we started working with Google,” Swan recalls, “I think we had a very different lens from most people making games on their platform.”
“Because we are a game-making game, we can start taking the view of: what does that mean to the game makers? If they have that power in their hands, how does it help them?
“Obviously, things like Crowd Choice [where viewers can vote to affect in-game choices] would work well, Crowd Play too [where viewers can jump into games with streamers], but State Share Beta was something that would work really well because you can link directly into the game, into the play session or the create session.
“That solves so much of the friction problems and allows creators to share their games on Twitter and have their followers jump in immediately, without landing on the front-end menu and having to search to find it. It was such a natural fit for us,” Swan finishes.
“When they launched in November last year,” Smithies adds, “Stadia didn’t lead with the convenience or speed of access. But for me, that’s one of the most exciting things about Stadia and cloud gaming.
“The fact that you can share something and someone could be in there with you, and that’s it,” we couldn’t agree more, with State Share being the feature that excited us most from the launch.
“I’d say this is a really big differentiator for us, as everything in Crayta is designed to be collaborative. The whole process of game creation is collaborative – we’ve got different layers of access so that somebody who is say, used to Minecraft, can build stuff and access drop-down menus and things like that.
“So right from the shallow end down to the deep end of people who are really serious programmers – wherever you are, it’s collaborative. So even in the programming tool, even in the code itself, you can actually have multiple people in the code. You can have ten people coding and it gets very, very chaotic.
“And that all goes down to that main goal, which is turning the process of game creation into a fun game itself. Fun, but serious. In the first week after launch, there were over 500 games published on Crayta. And in fact, we can obviously see behind the scenes, and there’s over 10,000 games that were not published – that’s probably people experimenting. But to have over 500 user generated games created in the first week is phenomenal,” notes Smithies.
Of course, State Share Beta isn’t the only thing making it easier for users to develop games. The very nature of cloud gaming itself, with no downloads, installs or enormous updates (I’m looking at you, Warzone), all removes barriers from just jumping in and creating.
“We were developing initially on PC, and we realised that there’s a problem with a game that is going to be like a 10GB plus download, with minimum compatibility specs,” notes Swan.
“It could be that a game took 20 minutes to make for a bit of throwaway fun, but then it takes you an hour and-a-half to download, patch, install, make sure you’ve got the right hardware… So we realised, I guess we’re talking over a year ago now, that cloud gaming would be the perfect solution for us. It was the hardware solution that matched our software solution. From there we had an introduction with Google and that’s when the partnership really kicked off. It just made perfect sense.”
The mission statement of making game creation accessible to all goes beyond Crayta’s chosen platform. The team have gone to great lengths to truly make the game as accessible and representative as possible.
“We want to be as inclusive as possible in everything we’re doing” says Smithies. “So for instance, we’ve been working with a fantastic woman called Kirsty McNaught, who is an expert on accessibility for severely physically disabled people.
“She’s been helping us in terms of the UI and the UX, but also she’s also been working to enable things like eye gaze [eye-tracking technology] to work with Crayta. Because everything we’re doing is about trying to make the process of game creation more accessible to everyone, to democratise that process. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. So that includes a severely disabled person. Why should they not be able to make games? And that goes right across the board, everything we try to do is that way.”
Making things more accessible to everyone also means being representative of everyone too. In our time with the game, we were first struck by the character creation screen.
You’d expect a game centred around creativity to have a wide array of options for character creation, and it does – but it also feels there’s been a specific focus on promoting racial diversity within those options.
“It’s basically been our vision both as a company and for Crayta from the start,” replies Waddilove, “to be both accessible and inclusive, and you’re right to pick up on
the character creator.
“We don’t default you to white guy, we have a number of preset characters that cut across all ethnicities and genders. And if you delve into the character creator, we’ve made sure that there’s a wide range of skin tones.
“You should be able to represent yourself or whatever character you want to be within the game. We didn’t want people to feel like they were being restricted to our vision
of the platonic ideal human.”
With this focus on inclusivity, alongside the marketing push provided by Google, it seems that Crayta is bound to find an audience among those looking for a creative outlet. And with 500 games produced in the first week, it seems well on its way.
The team runs us through some of their favourite titles so far – including ‘The Incredible Shrinking Player,’ which feels like the Ant Man video game we’ve been waiting for.
One story stands out, however, as Waddilove relates.
“There have obviously been a lot of positive comments, but I think the one that that hit hardest for me was when one guy came into our discord and said that he had moved to America from Europe. He’d been planning to come back to visit his family but obviously, COVID happened
“Then he saw Crayta, and built a game with his three nephews, who are avid Minecraft players. So they helped with all the level design, and were really good at that. And he’s a coder, so he was able to code their design ideas.
“Connecting people, especially in the current climate, where we’re all disconnected from one another is just, yeah… I might have cried a little bit.”
The game’s focus on racial diversity turned out to be especially appropriate, given a new initiative from Unit 2 Games: The Black Creators Prize Fund and mentorship programme.
THE BLACK CREATORS FUND
In response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the United States and around the world following the death of George Floyd, Unit 2 Games decided to launch the Black Creators Fund.
The fund is designed to encourage people of colour to get their first foot on the creative ladder and into the games industry. The Black Creators Prize Fund and Mentoring Programme, awarded $10,000 in July plus $2,000 a month for the rest of 2020 to the most promising black creators in the Crayta community.
Additionally, the studio is offering six months of mentoring to everyone who applies, and will be featuring their creations within Crayta.
Stadia has also recently announced that it is matching the Black Creators’ Prize Fund initiative. On top of the initial $20,000 (plus six months of mentoring per applicant), Stadia have now added another $20,000. This $40,000 pot will allow the Crayta team to increase the monthly prizes until the end of 2020. More details can be found on the Crayta website.
“The death of George Floyd, and the momentum behind Black Lives Matter movement, felt to me like one of those really rare times, like the Me Too movement, when there’s the opportunity to see permanent change, and to right a terrible historical injustice.
“We’re only a small player but establishing the Black Creators fund was a small but specific action we could take to back that. We just felt we had to do something.”