Today we’re highlighting every woman-led session at this year’s Develop:Brighton conference, demonstrating the increasing breadth and strength of the line-up of women speakers.
From accessibility to art pipelines, studio management to charting on Steam, production tips to diversity, stage magic to prototyping, character design to public perception, pitching to audio systems – there’s a head-spinning array of topics on offer from women at this year’s seaside conference.
All of these sessions, and more, will provide applicable knowledge and techniques for a huge number of disciplines across the industry. So get out of the bar this July and listen to some of the industry’s brightest and best share their knowledge across these 20 sessions.
TUESDAY JULY 9TH
Successful Crowdfunding: A Kickstarter Post-Mortem
Cari Watterton, UX designer, Puny Astronaut
Tuesday – 11.00 to 11.45 – Room 2
Cari Watterton is one of three women vying for your attention in the first session slot of Develop:Brighton this year – helping kickstart the event with her session about Kickstarter.
Watterton single-handedly ran a successful Kickstarter to fund her university’s honours year project – by the time the campaign ended she had reached over 200 per cent funded.
This post-mortem of her campaign will provide an overview of what she learnt, good and bad. She gives practical advice on how to plan and fund your campaign in a way that’s easy to follow and great for people new to crowdfunding.
The UX designer at Puny Astronaut, who previously worked on Minecraft: Console Edition, tells MCV: “I’m always looking for ways to develop myself and I love sharing knowledge. I saw a great post-mortem talk at EGX last year with a really relatable and down to earth format, and I was inspired to do something similar with my Kickstarter experience.
“It’s a goal of mine to speak at GDC’s UX Summit and so applying to speak at Develop was a natural step. I’m a first-time speaker and was assured by a good friend of mine that they were really welcoming and that the conference would be a great place to start.”
Accessibility and the Importance of Including the Disabled in the Development Process
Felicia Prehn, production manager, Nopia Oy
Tuesday – 11.00 to 11.45 – Room 6
Felicia Prehn’s personal experience makes her more qualified than most to speak on accessibility in video games.
“I’m almost completely blind and somewhere around 2017 I realised that the discussion of the topic had very few actual disabled people in it. I decided it would be important and useful to use my story and my experiences in a way that would hopefully make games better for everyone,” she tells us.
The session will cover how accessibility and inclusion in games aren’t trends, but rather a necessity in a world where hundreds of millions of people are disabled. How can developers and companies find disabled gamers to help them in their work? Prehn will also discuss her perspective as a blind woman working in the game industry.
A regular speaker at conferences in the Nordics and Baltics, Prehn explains that even talking at a conference is different for the visually-impaired: “The most difficult part about giving presentations is that almost all of my viewers aren’t visually-impaired, and thus want a visual presentation. It’s difficult for me to think about visuals and making things look ‘clean’ when I myself can’t see my slides during my presentation,” she explains to MCV.
“I decided to use my story in a way that would hopefully make games better for everyone.”
Art Pipelines in Hold the World
Laura Dodds, senior artist, The Chinese Room
Tuesday – 11.00 to 11.45 – Room 5
For those working in the intersection of art and technology we recommend Laura Dodds session on creating Hold the World, a VR experience starring David Attenborough set in the Natural History Museum. Before joining The Chinese Room, Dodds was head of art at VR outfit Dream Reality Interactive.
Dodds outlines the talk for us: “We were working with lots of interesting technologies including volumetric video capture, photogrammetry and scanned specimens from the museum collection. I’ll be stepping through what our art processes were and what I learnt along the way.
“The session will cover several key findings that arose from working with and combining these different technologies in engine. This includes how various lighting techniques and colour grading methods were employed to ensure that assets with highly varying properties and produced from disparate sources were implemented in Unity to cohere into a believable scene.
“I’ve been to Develop for the last four years and I’ve had a great time each year, this year I’m really interested in Lottie Bevan’s talk on the first year of an indie studio and Leanne Loombe’s session on pitching,” Dodds tells us. “As well as going to lots of talks, I make sure to load up on cakes, ice cream and go for at least one swim even if it’s raining!”
Fun, Safety, Profit: Year 1 of a Successful Indie Studio
Lottie Bevan, co-founder, Weather Factory
Tuesday – 12.00 to 12.45 – Room 4
Lottie Bevan is co-founder of indie studio Weather Factory, best known for Cultist Simulator. In its first year, the studio has already proved to be one of the most open around, providing hugely useful details on how it’s run via regular blog posts. This talk brings together much of that insight, all of which helped Cultist Simulator gross nearly $2m (£1.57m) in sales in its first year.
Bevan will cover the studio’s strategy, how Weather Factory worked it out, and how Cultist Simulator fit into it, as well as their first year’s numbers and how they stacked up against expectation. Bevan promises to “share sales figures, studio costs, business strategies, publisher stories, and of course hard-learnt lessons.”
Bevan is one of the youngest female founders in the industry, a current BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and founder of Coven Club, a women in games support network. She previously worked on Fallen London, Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies as producer at Failbetter Games.
How do you define a company culture when you’re still growing? How do you recruit a diverse team when time constraints mean you needed the position filled yesterday? How do biscuits promote inclusion?
How to Grow a Studio in 365 Days… And Counting
Georgina Felce, studio operations manager, Big Pixel Studios
Tuesday – 12.00 to 12.45 – Room 5
Almost everyone wants to grow, but a six-fold growth in the space of a single year isn’t most people’s idea of fun. Georgina Felce details just that scenario, though, when Big Pixel was acquired by WarnerMedia and its headcount rocketed up from just four staff.
This session tackles the tough questions: how do you define a company culture when you’re still growing? How do you recruit a diverse team when time constraints mean you needed the position filled yesterday? And more cryptically: how do biscuits promote inclusion? This session offers insights on a measurable framework for encouraging thoughtful studio expansion.
Felce oversees the day to day operational running of the studio, heading up recruitment and championing the studios core values and culture. Speaking on her decision to talk this year, she says: “Being involved with the gaming community has been incredibly beneficial to my career development and I’ve been in a really fortunate position with Big Pixel – we’ve had quite a journey in the past year! I believe I have some valuable experiences and lessons to share.”
Everything We Did to Chart on Steam
Hannah Flynn, communications director, Failbetter Games
Tuesday –14.00 to 14.45 – Room 4
Failbetter’s Hannah Flynn likes Brighton so much, she recently moved there. Her talk at the conference reflects that it’s “been a big year for Failbetter from a marketing standpoint. We launched the #loveindies event last summer and did another one this year, and we ran a huge (by indie standards) marketing campaign for the launch of our game Sunless Skies.”
Flynn promises to break down everything she and the Failbetter Games team did to launch Sunless Skies, with the pros, cons and outcomes for each. That will include overall strategy, how to make a splash leaving early access, media and streamer outreach, press and consumer events, advertising, store placement, merchansing, and more… Phew.
Flynn explains her choice to speak this year: “I came back from maternity leave since the last Develop, so I’ve been getting back into industry life, and I felt I’d put out quite a lot of work that others might find helpful!”
And while she loves “the festival and the fringe, the amusements, fancy ice cream, sunshine and the sea,” she notes that one year a man actually explained to her how to use a big pair of tongs to pick up a tiny dessert after she made a joke about “the wrong tools for the job.”
She adds: “This sums up what it’s like to be a woman in these spaces, honestly.”
“Today, most of the citizen science games are puzzle or simulation games but exploring new genres could help reach a broader audience.”
Video Games to Tackle Today’s Biggest Scientific Challenges
Claire Baert, founder, Think Crowd
Tuesday – 14.00 to 14.45 – Room 5
A lot of science underpins creating games but what about games that actually solve scientific problems? Now that’s clever. Claire Baert is talking about this strand of games “in which players work on real scientific problems and produce data for research.
“People might have played Sea Hero Quest, which allows scientists to detect people who are at genetic risk of Alzheimer’s based on how they play specific levels of game. I’ll be discussing this, as well as some others that tackle quantum, biodiversity and ecology issues, plus I’ll be covering topics such as design challenges and players’ motivations. Today, most of the citizen science games are puzzle or simulation games but exploring new genres could help reach a broader audience.
“Talking at the Develop:Brighton conference is an opportunity to spread the word about citizen science to the games industry and to encourage more collaboration between scientists and game designers and developers,” she explains as her key motivations.
“Develop:Brighton is also building bridges between academia and games with the new Develop:Research track, opened last year. The thematic for 2019 is ‘Games for Good’ and participants will look at different questions, including how games can promote innovation to health, social engagement and education. I’m looking forward to finding out more about the program and speakers!”
Transfer of Gaming Experiences: Considering the Impact of Game Design Beyond Gameplay
Angelica B. Ortiz de Gortari, researcher,
University of Liège Tuesday – 16.00 to 16.45 – Room 2
How do video games change how we “perceive, interpret and interact” with the world? That’s the question that Angelica B. Ortiz de Gortari is tackling in her talk on Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP).
“Some have referred to Game Transfer Phenomena as the ‘original AR’ or ‘consensus hallucinations’, since gamers have reported seeing images overlaying physical objects such as seeing power bars above people’s heads, or menus or maps in the corner of their eyes,” Ortiz de Gortari explains.
“The main goal of my research is to inform and demystify GTP to avoid wrong and negative interpretation, as well as to raise awareness on the potential impact and applications of GTP. I’m a passionate researcher on the impact of interactive technology, and I love new technology. I admire the geniality and creativity that give origin to video games as contemporary pieces of art and potential pedagogic tools.”
She continues: “Most of the time, my conferences are directed at academics, but I’m interested in spreading the results of my research among those that can directly obtain benefit from it. There is usually a divide between academia and the industry and it is my intention with my talk to build a bridge between these worlds.”
Marshalling the troops
Susan Marshall, content director of Develop:Brighton, tells us about the conference’s efforts and successes in recruiting more women speakers
How do you find women speakers?
We source female speakers from our usual channels: via speaker submissions, my own research and our female board members. We’ve recently made a conscious effort to increase the number of women on the advisory board and we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of women submitting talks in the past couple of years which is really encouraging. There are also more female students volunteering at the conference than ever before, which I think shows that there are more young women coming into the industry. So it’s all moving in the right direction, just slowly.
Are there still difficulties in getting women to come forward and speak?
Yes, I believe there are. We once asked all our speakers to submit a two-minute video so we could see what they were like at public speaking. An advisory board member told me afterwards that they’d been told by a handful of women that they didn’t want to submit a video because they feared being judged for their looks and not their knowledge.
Do you have a target for women speakers?
We aim to have at least 25 per cent of the sessions from women speakers. The industry percentage of women vs men is around 20 per cent so this is in keeping with this number. We’ve done some interesting blog posts with women this year; we hope by spotlighting these we might attract more women to speak and attend. There needs to be positive role models out there influencing young women to work in any technology sector. I hope that we can inspire more women to speak which will hopefully draw yet more women into our industry.
Are the number of women speakers going up?
The numbers have gone up incrementally each year, as we’ve seen the numbers slowly tick up in the industry for women in games. This year we have 30 per cent more women speaking than in 2018. Ultimately we’d love for it to be 50 per cent of the content, so we work really hard to increase that number each year.
WEDNESDAY JULY 10TH
From Student to Start-up
Vicky Potts, co-founder, Whitepot Studios
Wednesday – 11.00 to 11.45 – Room 4
One of our 2018 Women in Games Awards winners takes the stage on Wednesday morning to discuss how she bridged that tricky gap from student to creating her company. Now 27, she is co-founder of Whitepot Studios – which won NI Game Of The Year for its title Tubocity.
Potts will explain how she wound up setting up two companies already, and about the pitfalls and upsides of transitioning directly from student to start-up – including skills required, realistic expectations, lessons learnt, and more.
From making websites at the age of 11, it felt pretty inevitable Potts would end up in tech. She went on to graduate from Queen’s University Belfast in 2015 straight into her first business, a bluetooth beacon solution for museums and other venues. Adept with C# and Unity, she has utilised her tech background to transition to a business and production role in games.
Practical Production Tips for Studios Without a Producer
Lucie Prunier, producer, Preloaded
Wednesday – 15.00 to 15.45 – Room 2
Are you an indie developer who feels there’s just not enough hours in the day? Then Lucie Prunier is here to help with a talk centering on time management, people management and problem solving methods.
“Indie and micro studio leads often need to wear many hats in development, but also handle all the organisation and problem-solving side of the business themselves,” she explains.
“This talk is intended for those who struggle to pause and catch their breath for their business: it features actionable tips to help them smooth their process, alleviate the pains of production and avoid meltdowns of budgets, quality or developers!”
Speaking about Develop she tells us: ”I find it to be the perfect balance between a must-go industry conference, with valuable networking opportunities and knowledge to be shared, and a human-sized event. It’s always a pleasure to go to and never a chore.”
On gender diversity she tells us: “I once saw a panel, with two men and two women, on working conditions. Upon being asked whether they thought gender diversity impacted on crunch at a studio, both women instantly said ‘Yes’ while both men said ‘No’. A short embarrassed silence ensued. To me, this was one of the most telling examples of why we need more diversity in the industry: it opens everyone to different perspectives they never considered, and challenges the status quo.”
“I’m hoping to be part of this next wave of change in the industry – to get it to be more open, welcoming and inclusive for everyone.”
Women in Games Roundtable
Cinzia Musio, associate live ops manager, Splash Damage
Wednesday – 11.00 to 11.45 – Room 7
Traditional sessions are great, but a roundtable discussion has many benefits too. Cinzia Musio is hosting this year’s table on women in games, which will discuss “how far we’ve come in the industry and what we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”
Musio is well qualified to lead the discussion too: “Having personally ran several unconscious bias workshops at Splash Damage, there are a lot of actions that we can decide to take as an industry to help bring in and retain women,” she explains. Musio also sits on the diversity board at the studio, where she focuses on inclusivity training initiatives within the studio. She feels the roundtable format should be beneficial: “I feel that doing a roundtable is a good way to get more voices heard on this very important topic.
“I’m hoping to be part of this next wave of change in the industry – to get it to be more open, welcoming and inclusive for everyone. I thought that getting people to talk about women in games at Develop would be a great place to start, as it already has a level of visibility.”
She also notes that the table is open to all: “This roundtable was made to be open to everyone, so that we can widen the conversation, as diversity of thoughts will get us to think about new ways to help the industry as a whole!”
Managers Have Feelings, Too
Lisa Kretschmer, development manager, EA Ghost Games
Wednesday – 15.00 to 15.45 – Room 7
EA’s Lisa Kretschmer is taking her Devcom talk from last year and opening it up for discussion at this year’s Develop:Brighton as a roundtable discussion. And if you’ve had a tough time leading your team of late, this could be just the support group you need to gain some perspective.
Kretschmer explains: “Being a manager, or team lead, with responsibility for a project and individual careers comes with many challenges and sometimes we can face emotionally stressful situations. Do we have to be a rock for the team or is it OK to struggle at times? Let’s sit together and discuss how people cope in stressful situations and discuss learnings that emerged from difficult situations. I’m very happy to host a panel on this topic to get an open conversation going to exchange experiences, thoughts and insights with a wider group.”
And Kretschmer is very happy to be back in Brighton again for a second year.
“Last year was the first year I attended Develop! The weather was perfect, we attended some interesting talks, met some new people as well as old friends. I like the location as it offers individual rooms for talks, the expo hall as well as the hotel bar for networking – with a view! It’s all combined in a space that doesn’t feel too big and empty, which I really like.”
Why Game Designers Should Study Stage Magic
Shringi Kumari, PHD student, University of York
Wednesday – 16.00 to 16.45 – Room 2
“For millennia, magicians have mastered crafting believable and engaging illusions. This talk provides a window into this untapped wealth of design knowledge and insight for game designers,” Shringi Kumari explains to us.
The seasoned game designer has nine years experience making casual games but turned researcher three years ago, to figure out how game designers can take inspiration from other creative fields. In this case how stage magic can be translated to games, for creating believable illusions and moments of surprise.
“As game designers, I feel we can do with as many thinking tools as possible, to help express ourselves through mechanics. I believe magicians and game designers often work with similar problem statements – creating engaging puzzles, choreography of a game session, creating a believable world and providing an illusion of control within that world’s limits.
“One of the main aims of a magician’s deception, is just that: to make the spectator’s illusion more and more ‘real’ no matter how impossible the act is. This talk elaborates on magicians’ principles of perceived causality to help designers not only erect a structurally sound game illusion but build features which allow for surprise and suspense.”
It’s an intriguing and utterly unique approach, and one that we’re in some suspense to hear more about.
“I believe magicians and game designers often work with similar problem statements.”
Working Together for Smarter Prototyping
Anastasiia Tsaplii, game developer, Bossa Studios
Wednesday – 16.00 to 16.45 – Room 1
Mobile came with a whole new approach to games development, differences that Anastasiia Tsaplii looks to leverage in this talk comparing the different approaches to prototyping on PC and mobile – exploring how the platforms shape ideas and production methods.
“Every project starts with an idea, which becomes a prototype if you’re lucky. This talk is about how different studios establish prototyping processes and make their ideas a reality,” explains Tsaplii, adding: “We will look into multiple prototype stages and ways of getting feedback, and how we as developers can improve visibility through data analysis and analytics during playtesting.”
The session will cover creating an extended toolkit for rapid prototyping, establishing an archive of codebase and mechanics which can be reused and built on by successive projects, using prototype development to identify technical constraints and applying data analysis as a part of extended prototyping.
Tsaplii works on the World’s Adrift team at Bossa and previously led a prototyping team at Goodgame Studios in Hamburg, where she was responsible for a small team working on mobile multiplayer titles, creating network solutions for multiple free-to-play competitive titles and exploring alternative solutions for peer-to-peer games.
THURSDAY JULY 11TH
Body Positivity in Character Design
Loukia Kyriakidou, freelance artist
Thursday – 11.15 to 12.00 – Room 4
Representation in games remains a key topic, so Loukia Kyriakidou session on characters will be useful for anyone involved in their design and depiction. It will “recognise emerging platforms in character design, explore why we need to change how we create characters, and help designers break away from default choices and stereotypes,” Kyriakidou tells us.
“With games reaching an increasingly wide and diverse audience, it is important to represent all groups of people in the characters that inhabit them,” she points out.
Using her own journey of recognising patterns in her work, across over 20 titles to date, Lucy Kyriakidou will explain how we project our own ideals into the characters we create and offer ways to overcome this and expand our reference pool.
On her choice of Develop:Brighton as a platform, she remarks: “Develop brings so much of the UK industry together so I feel it is the place to raise issues to encourage change in games. While I still get nervous doing talks, body positivity is a subject I am very passionate about and this year I thought I would challenge myself and speak at the conference, hoping to inspire some of that change, no matter how small.”
Help! Games Under Attack!
Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO, Ukie
Thursday – 11.15 to 12.00 – Room 2
No one does a rousing defence of the industry speech quite as well as Dr Jo Twist. The Ukie CEO, and also host of our upcoming MCV Women in Games Awards, will here be adding insight and advice alongside her fire and passion, as she looks back over what has been a tumultuous recent period for the industry as a whole.
“It’s been a hell of an 18 months and I think it is time the community had a bit of a session to contextualise the World Health Organisation’s ‘gaming disorder’, loot boxes, the blurring of lines between games and gambling, Brexit, and what the hell is next,” Twist tells us.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, but a lot of misreporting of what is actually going on, and what the potential future looks like for games, for our industry, for us as creators, innovators and businesses,” she continues.
The session looks to arm those businesses and creators “with myth busting truths,” giving them some ideas as to what they need to look out for. And finally, you should come away “comforted that it’s all OK and these are just our cultural birthing pains.”
“Develop brings so much of the UK industry together so I feel it is the place to raise issues to encourage change.”
What Investors Really Look For
Ella Romanos, director, Ella Romanos Ltd
Thursday – 12.15 to 13.00 – Room 3
The key to pitching your project successfully is to understand what potential investors are looking for from you.
“Put yourself in their shoes,” advises Ella Romanos, who in a decade has founded three studios and now provides strategic support to others.
There are many questions to consider here: “How do investors really assess your pitch? What are they looking for, and what are they thinking? What is the internal review process that they go through to assess a project?” Romanos asks. And she very much aims to provide some of the answers.
“This talk will explain how investment funds assess companies and projects, from the point of view of the investor. By explaining how an investment fund’s green light process works, from personal experience designing and implementing these processes, attendees will gain insight into how investors think and what they are looking for.”
This session is then accompanied by a ‘pitch review’ from 15.00 to 15.45 on the same afternoon. Here Romanos will be joined by other experts to provide an “opportunity for you to get honest direct feedback,” in small groups.
The Big Why: How to Present Ideas and Get Buy In
Leanne Loombe, head of Riot Labs, Riot Games
Thursday – 15.00 to 15.45 – Room 4
Riot’s Leanne Loombe is here to help you get your ideas off the ground when it comes to pitching, “with a focus on the internal development side,” she tells us.
“There are so many ways to pitch an idea, some good, some that could be better and I think this is a really key part of making game. I’ll be talking through some frameworks you can use as a producer or designer trying to get your game, feature or product green lit. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my tips and hope that it can help some people as they are formulating their ideas,” Loombe expands. In the session, she will discuss her approach to crafting pitches, which she has utilised on franchises such as Need for Speed and League of Legends.
And Develop:Brighton is a bit special for Loombe: “I live in LA but I am from the UK and I started my games career in the South of England. Develop was the very first games conference I ever attended as a professional in the industry so it has a great nostalgic feeling for me. It brings together so much local talent around the UK and provides a really great way to connect with other people in the industry.”
“We’ll go through guidance that we give developers about creating games for folks with limited mobility.”
The Xbox Adaptive Controller Story
Tara Voelker, program manager, Xbox and Mixer
Thursday – 12.15 to 13.00 – Room 2
To see a company the size of Microsoft bring its resources to bear to help solve issues around accessibility in games was one of our highlights of last year.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller was a huge step-forward by the platform, both in recognising and helping to practically solve the problems faced by disabled gamers. Now, one year on, Microsoft’s Tara Voelker, the gaming and disability community lead at Xbox, as part of the Gaming for Everyone program, will provide a broad update on what’s been learnt and what’s next.
“It has been an amazing year since we announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and the response has overwhelmed the team. We’ll tell stories that haven’t been told, disclose things we have learned, and ask for help on where we should head next,” she explains.
And the session has a practical core too, she tells us: ”We’ll also go through guidance that we give developers about creating games for folks with limited mobility.”
Voelker is a program manager at Mixer, working on new features as well as heading up its accessibility efforts. She’s previously spent over seven years in triple-A game dev at Irrational games, Ready at Dawn and Turtle Rock Studios, among others.
Code Ahoy – Finding Hidden Treasure In Creating Your Own Audio Systems
Katie Tarrant, sound designer, Rare
Thursday – 15.00 to 15.45 – Room 6
Rare’s Katie Tarrant is speaking alongside other members of the studio’s audio team, where she will demonstrate “some key audio systems from [Sea of Thieves] which show just what hidden treasure awaits the technically adventurous sound designer.”
The team will share some of the “creative and technical decisions we made when crafting the soundscape for Sea of Thieves, and share some insight in to our audio systems.
“We love to experiment and we have a wonderful freedom in our team to explore and be creative. We’ve achieved some unique and extremely cool things on this project, and it’ll be nice to shine some light on what’s going on behind the scenes,” Tarrant expands. “Sea of Thieves means so much to us – it’s a project we invest all of our passion and curiosities in to.”
She adds: “I think there can be an additional pressure for female speakers. There is sometimes a subconscious worry about proving yourself and feeling valued amongst the rest, but fortunately I’ve always been supported by incredible people in the industry and so I’ve rarely felt like I have act differently because of my gender.”
Thank you to everyone who took part in this piece and we look forward to hearing your talks at Develop:Brighton in just a few weeks.