Guest Lecture: Paul Hollins from University of Bolton

The final guest lecture as part of the Business of Computer Games module, this time from a man named Paul Hollins who works at the University of Bolton, but had work experience with a company known as Midas Interactive back in the 1990s when he first joined them.

The Midas company was involved with the “grey market” – importing games into Europe and making a profit by reselling them. However Midas eventually became a development company after purchasing Interactive Entertainment. When this happened Paul was given the job of creating external licensing for their games with people such as Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea Football Manager), Andre Agassi (Tennis) and the Rugby Football League.

However the one that made the most money was a equestrian simulation game known as Mary Kings Riding Star which he aquired for next to nothing from an Australian Developer, which targetted young girls, a market which nobody really made games for.

Paul led on to tell us the good and bad parts of working in the games industry. First of all for him, no two days were ever the same and he was able to mix with celebrities whilst negociating licensing deals (this also mean’t he could get free tickets to sporting events).

The bad part was the poor working conditions, as well as little job security since “you were only as good as your last game” (the company had lost alot of money on his last game when at the company). As well as being under constant pressure to meet hard milestones. Whether the industry is still like this today probably depends on what developer you are with.

He told us how if you are a developer, getting a publisher behind you can be hard and sometimes impossible if you haven’t had any games published commercially before, and how publishers set high expectations that if you didn’t reach you wouldn’t get paid.

The talk came to an end with him telling us that if we want to get into the games industry, we better eat, drink, sleep and breathe games.

Guest Lecture: Anthony Hartley-Denton from AHD Imaging

A guest lecture at university today, this time from AHD Imaging.

Anthony Hartley-Denton is one of the founders of AHD Imaging, an animation and architectural design studio.</p>\r\n<p>When he started he was doing freelancing architect work using AutoCAD before setting up AHD. Most of the clients he got were at the beginning were through his wife, and his first big commission was because of his connections.

He told us about how when you work in a technology based company, it costs more to keep up to date, such as his rendering farms where it is better to buy a new computer than to upgrade the old ones. And the 80-20 rule, where 80% of your company’s income is usually from 20% of your total client base.

Finally, Anthony gave us his top tips when starting up your own business as he did:

  • Keep positive about things.
  • Always aim high.
  • Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
  • Cash is KING.
  • Don’t be apologetic about money owed.
  • Be upfront about the amount you are being paid.
  • Be prepared to fire your clients.
  • Keep in mind the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule for business- where anything in a few is vital, anything in many is trivial i.e. 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your customers/clients or 80% of complaints are from 20% or your products.
  • Keep in mind that not all clients are equal.

One key factor he did mention throughout the talk was that image was everything, and you must be willing to spend money to impress clients, such as letterheads for your company, a good company website and if your showing your portfolio, a nice leather wallet rather than a ring binder or plastic wallet.

Unlike Richard Jones’ guest lecture, I don’t think I really learn’t anything about starting up my own company that I didn’t already know or couldn’t have guessed on my own.

Guest Lecture: Richard Jones from 3D Framework

Quite possible the single greatest and least boring lecture I’ve ever sat through.. then again, starting my own company is what I intend to do.

The basis of the guest lecture was setting up your own business, and from someone who had actually done it without any prior knowledge before he tried.

The first issue Richard talked about was how many people would be taking part with the setup of the company. Whether it was by yourself or with a friend/group, each having their own benefits such as setting up by yourself is better from a bank point of view since there will be less arguments over the direction of the company, the group being better from a trader point of view since people interested in buying your software would see you as more professional than a freelance.

Securing money is important as one would expect when setting up a company, a business plan is needed for banks to judge whether or not they’ll invest in you, and Richard himself got the backing due to his Excel spreadsheets just updating when you changed a value.

Another method of getting money is to find an investor which can give you more than a bank can, however this can pose problems, as by law you have to take the path that will get the most money for your investors.

The lecture continued to talk about company types, whether you want to be a Sole Trader or register as a private limited company. As a Sole Trader, you and your company are seen as one, so if you get sued, your company doesn’t just get sued, you do. As a registered company, only your company can be attacked through lawsuits, not yourself. Being registered as a company may be harder to setup, but it makes you look more professional, however your finances are visible to other companies.

VAT registration although optional if your annual turnover is less than 70k, but the downside to registering is that you must charge VAT on top of your sales if you are registered. Although you as a company can claim it back, and if you sell to another company that is VAT registered they can claim back the VAT they paid on your product, for average consumers, it makes the price higher. By not being VAT registered, it can make your company appear small to larger companies.

Finally, when setting up a business, Richard mentioned that it is good to get help from CIDS Manchester, Accountants and Solicitors that are recommended, and Companies House.

Guest Lecture: Thomas Hulvershorn from IPlay

Another guest lecture in Business of Computer Games today at the university.

So, apparently mobile game development is one of the fastest growing areas of the game industry, which quite frankley isn’t that impressive, it just means its starting up, other areas of the game industry won’t be growing that much when they’ve had 10-20 years to establish themselves.

I-Play is one of the companies out there developing for the mobile phone, using the “shotgun” technique (this meaning them release several games in the short space of time), which according to the lecturer, Thomas, 30 in the last two years.

The first part of the lecture was about developing for the mobile phone, something which interested me being a developer myself. When a game is decided to developed, the programmers are given a list of handsets that it must work on, and get to work on it. Whether or not they use the same source and just use precompiler states for different platforms wasn’t mentioned  though.

Thomas also pointed out the differences in mobile phone development, like the restrictions of memory, keypad size, screen size, etc, and how on some phones, music is limited to midi output, and all this must be taken into consideration. As well as what to do if there is a phone call, or the battery is getting low.

One thing I noticed when it came to the porting of games to different phones was that the same game was the same price even when it had worse graphics, which I suppose when I gets down to the cost of $5, I could let it fly as long as if I upgrade my phonem I have access to the other phone version as well.

The second part of the lecture was about the Quality Assurance (QA), Thomas’ specialist field, revealing to us some of the terms they use such as ‘black box’, which means testing a game to make sure if it says it has something, it is there. Or ‘white box’, the complete opposite, which is about checking the code rather than the functionality.

After the lecture I was kind of left with a sense of emptiness, when we were told to bring our mobile phones in I expected we might get a free game to try from them, or possible some kind of fun exercise to find a bug, or even maybe a sign up sheet for QA, but it seemed more like free market research.

However the lecture wasn’t a complete loss, there was a lot of information into the workings of the testing environment for mobile phones.

The main question now is whether or not we’ll get someone to talk to us about starting your own game company. I’ve heard rumors about there was supposed to be someone but they didn’t turn up, which would be nice.

It would also be nice to maybe get someone from Blizzard to talk about being a GM for their MMORPG World of Warcraft or game development for them.

Guest Lecture: Lisa Corbett from Aadvark Swift

The first guest lecture of many at university today. As part of my Business of Computer Games class in the final year, the module lecturers pull in different people from the industry to talk to us about their area of field.

One of the people they chose was Lisa Corbett from Aadvark Swift, the aforementioned company being a specialist game developer recruitment agency.

The company was started back in 1989, with the intention of helping graduates or games veterans to find new jobs in the games industry. So it goes quite far back to near the beginning of console gaming.

When the lecture started we were informed that most of the information we were about to be told was programmer related, and that the game designers would need to contact someone else at the company if they required more information about their field.

The main reason for the company is so that game companys do not have to go through every 14 year olds CV that says they want a job as a game programmer, which funny enough I remember doing myself.

They take their qualities and strengths and find a companies suitable for you, as well as negociate a salary for you (most graduate salaries start between $18k to $20k per year, though I have heard that is going up by about $10k). Technical Directors get $1000 a week, which is nearly $60k a year.

As well as helping negociate your salary, they give advice for refining your CV for a certain position you may be after. Though most of the section on writing your CV was just a repeat of things I’ve heard before, though I didn’t think mentioning you play games in your hobbies and interests section would have been as important as they said it to be *fixes CV*.

The final part of the lecture was about interviews, one thing which was good to hear is no suit is required, casual clothes are better. Also as I would have guessed, play some of the companies game, and come up with critism for them, don’t mock them, but say things like ‘it was great, but it would have been better if…’

So obviously after hearing all this, we all thought, what is the catch? No catch apparently, the companies pay Aadvark Swift, we don’t pay them, which is great news.

At the end of the lecture, we were told that if we wanted anyone specific for a lecture we should notify the module leaders. To which I sent an email to them asking from someone from PopCap games, unfortunately they apparently never get back. Kinda cheap really, not like its much effort to answer an email.