Gorkana’s Louise Pantani speaks with Matthew Jarvis, the deputy editor of game development industry magazine, Develop. Jarvis talks about recent innovations in the gaming industry, stories destined for online or print publication and whether he has succumbed to the Pokemon game.
What extra responsibilities do you have as deputy editor, compared to before, when you were senior staff writer?
Well, I guess the switch to ‘editor’ versus ‘writer’ is a bit of a misnomer, as I was still responsible for sub-editing pages in the magazine before they went to press in my previous role! The move to dep ed means that I have greater responsibility for the production and overall direction of the magazine, in addition to its content. Essentially, playing a greater role in outlining the plan and theme for each issue, ensuring the magazine makes it to press on time every month and contributing more to the overarching editorial focus and quality of its features. Outside of the magazine, it also means I’ve taken a greater role in the organisation and running of our events, such as the recent Develop Awards.
What is your personal interest in games development?
I’ve been writing about games since I was at middle school, when I worked on the school’s student-run Runescape magazine (although, I admittedly haven’t returned to that game in a while). It seemed a natural path to take, so I published freelance games reviews and features in the local paper while I was in university. This led me to join the PC and tech trade magazine PCR after I graduated, before moving over to its games retail sibling MCV and then onto Develop, drilling further and further down into the games industry.
Having always been obsessed with small details and simultaneously being a bit pretentious and artsy (I studied English Literature at uni), covering games development allowed me to explore my passion for video games while also satiating my love of learning how things are put together and why they make us feel a certain way. I’m a massive cineaste too, but what’s unique about games contrasted with movies is the presence of the player and how they guide the experience – making telling a guided, meaningful story and examining important topics a very different challenge. Games are in many ways the ultimate art form: combining visuals, audio and narrative with the active participation of their audience, rather than being passively observed. Oh dear, I told you I was pretentious…
Have you seen any significant change in games development over the last few years?
Development is continually changing, and the last few years have seen some of the most exciting transformations the industry has ever experienced. The growing power and capability of mobile continues to redefine game design in the face of traditional console and PC titles. Just look at the recent success of Pokémon Go – a former console-only franchise that has seen a complete resurgence thanks to the ubiquity of mobile.
Meanwhile, the indie scene continues to produce innovative and never-seen-before revolutions, from the atmospheric beauty of gameplay-light experiences, such as Firewatch, Inside and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, to titles that fully reimagine how we interact with games, including Sam Barlow’s incredible Her Story, which turns a search box and a load of videos into a gripping murder mystery that refuses to guide the player to a single easy ending.
On the tech side, virtual reality is forcing developers to relearn everything they know about building games, but has already produced unique experiences that no other medium could express. Whether the medium becomes mainstream is another question entirely…
Can you describe a typical Develop reader in one sentence?
Whether they’re working in their bedroom or a studio with thousands of co-workers, a Develop reader is a passionate developer of any specialism – from coding to art and audio – interested in learning how to make their game the best experience it can possibly be.
How do you decide which features will go in the magazine, and which on the website?
We tend to save our biggest and best features – interviews with iconic developers, features exploring an important facet of game design, tech-heavy breakdowns of a specific mechanic or innovative game and so on – for the magazine, but nearly all of our work is eventually published on the website, as well. As we’re a monthly, we can only keep up with the times so much – so pieces that might be out of date by the time the next issue hits shelves tend to go straight up online.
Even in an age where print journalism is supposedly dying, you’d be surprised how much being able to pick up the physical magazine and see a glossy spread with a picture of Doom creator John Romero, Metal Gear Solid actor David Hayter or adventure game pioneer Ron Gilbert means to our readers. With so many of them being artistically-minded, I just think it’s nice for them to take a break from staring at a screen, while remaining invested in the industry they adore. This applies to those we interview, too – seeing their words printed on a page holds much more of an allure than being turned into another flash-in-the-pan online article.
Do you have any competitors in the industry?
In terms of print publications, I believe I’m right in saying we’re the biggest physical magazine aimed specifically at the development industry around the globe. Online, there are a few websites that also cover the industry – Gamasutra is probably the most well-known – but, outside of news, our unique approach to the entire development sector hopefully sets us apart!
How can PRs help you to prepare for the Gamescom and Develop:VR events?
Be aware of what we write about: we are not a consumer magazine, so previews (fun as they are) are of little use to us. Similarly, make sure you set us up with the right people to talk to – we’re looking for insight into a game or studio from the people that actually work there, so talking directly to developers, artists, directors and producers is key. If we end up hearing from someone in marketing, it’s unlikely to give us anything worth publishing. Outside of that, just get in touch – quickly explain why we should be paying attention and make it worth our time. There’s only two of us on the team, so time is incredibly valuable.
When are PRs most useful?
When they’re understanding: as I said above, make sure you know what we are and what we are looking for. If we ask for something specific, don’t try and spin something different and pretend it’s correct. This is especially relevant in the case of the opinion pieces we run – we don’t want to hear a load of self-promotional waffle about why your product is the best thing going, we’re after genuine insight into the sector you work in that can help other devs. Honestly, the answer is never ‘Buy our thing’. Similarly, if you offer us something and we tell you it isn’t relevant, accept the no and keep it in mind – this opportunity might not be suitable for us, but the next one might be.
Are there any upcoming features that you are particularly excited about?
We’ve just had a real doozy of an August issue, which should be hitting desks very soon and features an in-depth look at where graphics technology is heading, plus a chat with former members of Fable creator Lionhead about what they’ve been up to since the studio was shut down by Microsoft earlier this year. As Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn turns three years old; we look back on the MMORPG and learn how it got things right after its disastrous first release. Oh, and did I mention we have an interview with the Metal Gear Solid mastermind himself, Hideo Kojima? And another with CD Projekt Red, the mighty Witcher III: Wild Hunt developer named Studio of the Year at this year’s Develop Awards? I told you it was a cracker of an issue.
And finally, have you succumbed to Pokemon Go?
Having played it before its proper release over in the UK, I had to start again when it hit these shores. I’m not a particularly high level and haven’t managed to claim any gyms – I live way out in the country so PokeStops are scarce – but I am really enjoying catching as many pocket monsters as possible and reliving my childhood. My constantly dead phone battery? Less so.
- Matthew Jarvis is deputy editor of Develop