Interview

Speaker Spotlight: CCP's Sam Barton on bringing Eve Online to mobile with a little help from the players

Speaker Spotlight: CCP's Sam Barton on bringing Eve Online to mobile with a little help from the players

Pocket Gamer Connects London 2019 will take place on January 21st to 22nd. To give you a taste of what to expect, we'll regularly be publishing interviews with the speakers at the show.

For more details on PGC London and to book a ticket, head to the website here.

In today's Speaker Spotlight we're speaking to CCP London game director Sam Barton, who will present a talk on how the MMORPG developer produced a mobile game with help from the Eve Online community.

PocketGamer.biz: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sam Barton: Seizing the opportunity to create community-driven games with persistent worlds, I joined CCP London in early 2017 to lead the production and creative vision of their first original mobile game, Eve: War of Ascension.

Before joining CCP, I worked at Mediatonic as the director of product strategy, championing the studio-wide transition to the free-to-play business model and establishing their process for designing and operating live games.

A hugely passionate gamer, I strive to maintain a comprehensive appreciation of MMO design and champions competitive gaming as a founding member of UKIE’s esports committee. I am also a fully qualified archaeologist.

What topics will your session cover?

When CCP London invited attendees of their Eve: Vegas fan gathering to play a pre-alpha version of Eve: War of Ascension, little did they know that the playtest would still be running over a year later.

Only seven months into development, the playtest was supposed to last only three days, but the quality of information generated during that weekend resulted in it quickly becoming too valuable to shut down.

Eve Online is a popular PC MMO

This talk will explain why running playtests alongside development can have a profound and immediate impact on your game’s development direction as well as how they can provide the entire team with a better understanding of their audience.

It will also touch upon why maintaining an engaged community during development can produce a host of enthusiastic collaborators and establish an impassioned golden cohort.

Tell us a bit about the company.

CCP was founded in the summer of 1997 with the goal of becoming a leading massively multiplayer game company. With the launch of Eve Online in May 2003, CCP has established itself as one of the leading companies in the field, winning numerous awards and receiving critical acclaim worldwide.

CCP is dedicated to the development of cutting-edge massively multiplayer games. CCP is founded on the principle of pushing the envelope and breaking new ground on all levels. CCP is not about making copycat products with compromised quality. CCP is about making dreams become a reality.

What does your role entail?

Leading the creative vision and delivery of a mobile MMO, this role requires the application of production, design and product expertise to obtain commercial validation for the project.

The role also encompasses ownership of a multi-million-dollar budget, the establishment of mutually beneficial development contracts as well as responsibility over the business model and the revenue generating potential of the game.

Why did you want to work in the games industry?

Growing up in Leamington Spa, I had a front-row seat during the explosion of British gaming companies in the late 80s and early 90s that ignited a spark inside me for everything related to video games.

My supportive parents kindled this fire by buying me my first gaming machine, a ZX Spectrum which led to a Mega Drive and then a PC, then a PlayStation... It's not hard to see why gaming has been my primary hobby for over 30 years now!

Early on, my brother and I started to design our own Dizzy levels on dot matrix printer paper requisitioned from school and that desire to be on the creative side of games never really left.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into it?

Don't underestimate the value of the skills you've picked up outside of the games industry. It's never too late to make the jump across!

Although I spent the first five years of my career in eCommerce, the skills I picked up were very transferable for my first games industry role at Mediatonic. These included agile methodology, data analysis, task prioritization and people management.

There are also unique skills to be learnt within other industries that are harder to pick up while working on games. These make you both valuable and inimitable to prospective games companies.

What are your thoughts on the industry in the last 12 months?

It's hard to talk about the last 12 months without a reference to PUBG, Fortnite and the battle royale genre and rightly so. Those titles have won the hearts of scores of new gamers and further legitimized mobile as a true gaming platform.

It wasn’t long ago that everyone was saying "an FPS will never work on mobile" and now one is right at the top of the mobile grossing charts.

Eve: War of Ascension is developed in partnership with PlayRaven

All-in-all it's been a vintage year for gaming with some generation-defining titles released for most platforms. However, it’s also been clear during this period that our beloved industry does need to get its house in order on several topics including crunch and inclusivity.

What major trends do you predict in the next 12 months?

With some of the latest mobile devices being as powerful as current generation consoles, I expect to see an increasing number of ports and reworks of games traditionally only seen on PC and console.

We've already seen with the announcement of Diablo Immortal, that when these two audiences come together, there is often controversy and I expect to see more of this in the next 12 months.

It may not be pretty, but I do feel it's necessary for these communities to work through their differences before mobile can truly be considered a legitimate gaming platform by all gamers.

As a developer based in London, Brexit is also a topic that will dictate how the next 12 months pan out. As things currently stand, I'm still holding out hope for a People's Vote and a way to reverse the decision as all indicators point to Brexit being a dire threat to the UK’s interactive entertainment industry.

How has the games industry changed since you first started?

In some ways, it hasn't changed at all. We're still seeing developers release sequels for our most cherished IPs on a conventional timetable and the way that games are made is still broadly the same.

In other ways, it's all change. The fidelity of graphics, complexity of gameplay and business model for mobile titles mean titles are almost unrecognizable compared to the Angry Birds days. There are also more developers than ever being able to make games thanks to the accessibility that engines like Unity and Unreal provide.

For the first time, it feels that we're on the cusp of an era where the different platforms feel like windows into shared game worlds rather than being one-stop destinations for specific experiences.

Which part of the Connects event are you most looking forward to and why?

I'm particularly excited for the new Live Ops Landscape track as I've always felt it's an underserved topic considering that's where the engagement with the audience takes place.

Most of my career has been focused on running live games and I'm interested in hearing and sharing some of the war stories with my industry peers.

Staff Writer

Natalie Clayton is an Edinburgh-based freelance writer and game developer. Besides PCGamesInsider and Pocketgamer.biz, she's written across the games media landscape and was named in the 2018 GamesIndustry.biz 100 Rising Star list.

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