State of Play’s Katherine Bidwell: ‘I find sloppy clichés in games frustrating and I think the players deserve better’

Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight. In April, our Final Boss Katherine Bidwell, founder of State of Play.

You founded State of Play over ten years ago now, how does it compare today to how you first envisaged it?

I’m not sure we ever had a grand plan for State of Play. As with most of the things we do it all happened quite organically. The market has changed a huge amount since we started. We were making solely web games as well as animations. Now we are completely independent making games for predominantly the mobile market. Looking back at the breadth of our work from then to now, the thread that runs through them is the handmade element that has become our signature throughout our games.

With the greatest respect to your current role, what is or was your dream job?

Apart from playing lots of video games when I was a kid, I didn’t even know there was a games industry to work in, let alone be part of! My first passion really was film, I was the kid at school that had all the film posters on her bedroom wall, and I’m still hugely passionate about it. Working in film or TV production would have been a dream job for me. However, I think the freedom I have as an independent game developer is huge. I never feel like a small cog in a large machine, I’m able to have an input in every area of that production and I’m able to tell a story that engages an audience in a very personal way. I feel that games can tell narratives in new ways, building on and combining the kind of things films, novels, graphic design and animation do, and that’s what we are constantly trying to evoke at State of Play.

The BAFTA-winning Lumino City is a handcrafted delight

You once said you were “disillusioned by the output” of the industry – have things improved since then, do you find games to play that you’re passionate about?

There are loads of great games I feel passionate about. I guess for me if I’m playing an immersive game, I always want to feel an emotional connection to a game, and I want to care about my character. It’s the same if I’m watching a TV drama or film. I find sloppy clichés in games frustrating and I think the players deserve better.

What was the greatest single moment of your career to date?

Winning a BAFTA in 2015 for Artistic Achievement for Lumino City, and in the same year we were nominated for British Game and Innovation. We were the classic underdogs in the category we won, in terms of size of team and budget. Our parents watched at home in tears. I think you can still see the clip online of my complete shock when they called out our name, it just meant all the hard work was worth it. It was a very special time for us.

“The current market is tougher now for independent studios starting out, but there are always troughs and peaks and it’s about finding ways of riding them out.”

Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction?

Naturally I’m an optimist so you have got to think that, yes, it’s going in the right direction. As an industry we have to adapt and I do think the current market is tougher now for independent studios starting out, but there are always troughs and peaks and it’s about finding ways of riding them out. The one thing I think the industry is currently doing well is recognising games as an art form. The recent V&A exhibition Design/Play/Disrupt is an example of this, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Who continues to impress you in the industry?

Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie. When we were starting out she was a mentor and supporter of myself and State of Play. In my current position on the board of directors of Ukie I have an insight in how hard she works and her passion and love for the industry is infectious. She is a truly impressive person and a true asset to the industry.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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