In Episode 10 of the THIS IS HOW podcast from Season 1, we spoke to Matthew who works as a Lead Game Developer for UsTwo Games. You can listen to the episode here but for those who fancy a read, or might be hard of hearing, the full transcript is below.
Bwalya: You’re locked into THIS IS HOW, the podcast where we go behind the scenes to uncover the job roles shaping the most influential brands and companies in culture. For free content, resources and advice to kickstart your dream career, as well as insider tips direct from our podcast guests and industry experts head to our website at thisishow.uk. My name is Bwalya. I’m a freelance journalist and editor, the founder of a women’s basketball collective called the Hackney Gazelles and occasionally I DJ too.
Alex: And my name is Alex, and I’m a creative director and copywriter working in sportswear and fashion, having founded the publications The Daily Street and Crepe City Magazine.
Bwalya: This episode has been recorded over video call during the lockdown, so please excuse any bumps or background noise because you know, it be’s that way sometimes. On today’s episode we’ll be meeting Matthew Newcombe, who works as a lead developer, at award winning mobile games company UsTwo games.
Alex: Hello, Matthew.
Bwalya: Applause in the studio (claps).
Alex: It’s what we do (laughs). Welcome.
Bwalya: Applause in the Zoom studio.
Alex: Yeah, I love how you claimed that was a studio (laughs).
Bwalya: So lead developer at UsTwo Games.
Bwalya: Talk us through your job, babe.
Matthew: Actually feels like quite a hard thing to describe really succinctly. A developer role in games is really a programmer. It’s somebody who is, kind of, writing code and the code glues together the things that make a game, a game. They glue together the interactions when you press a button and what happens in that game, and what you see. But now I’m in quite a small company. So the really nice thing about that is actually you end up doing a little bit of everything. You do a bit of design, you do a bit of coding. You know, you even do a bit of art and animation here and there. And the reason why game development is sometimes really hard to describe is because it’s actually the meeting of so many different things that really come together to make such an amazing game, or title, a product. But yeah, I think the simplest version of that, or at least the simplest version of what a programmer does is the kind of, you know, the coding behind it, the coding behind the game that helps glue these parts together to create an experience.
Bwalya: Can you tell us what UsTwo actually is? Like, what are they and what do they do?
Matthew: So UsTwo Games is the name of the game studio, but we’re actually part of a larger company called UsTwo. So UsTwo is kind of a parent company and the games team was this tiny team that started in that larger company. And when that very small team initially made Monument Valley, which ended up being, kind of, a surprise success to the company, in many ways, they started to take it a lot more seriously. So they formed this studio, UsTwo games.
Alex: For those haven’t played it, that game blew up pretty much straight away, right?
Matthew: Yeah, it was crazy. We had no idea how big Monument Valley was going to be and the, kind of, the popularity it reached and the mainstream access it got was something that, yeah, we were obviously incredibly excited about at UsTwo. And really, what’s the word, kind of, validated that team’s efforts in trying to create artistic experiences. When I think of Monument Valley, I think of this slow, meditative puzzle game where you’re exploring this, kind of, beautiful architectural world through the act of moving your avatar around. And you’re solving these these puzzles which cause you to stop the thought. So the emotional journey that the player, that you’re going on, is very slow. It’s very meditative, and it, sort of, wants you to have a bit of a sense of introspection, which all sounds a bit pretentious. But that’s what we try to achieve, right. We try to achieve that slightly artistic thing of trying to make someone feel like they’ve gained something important from an experience.
Alex: As a developer and a lead developer, especially how much of this are you in control of, or are you having to think of? Like, that emotional journey you’re on about and the, kind of, reward system, but also the business model? Do you-, are you starting at the beginning of your journey when you’re making a game and thinking all of that? Or is someone handing you all of that, and you’re just coding it?
Matthew: No, yeah. So, very much the opposite. So, the way we work is we go through what we call prototyping, which is where we try to generate ideas, and that’s typically like one or two people sitting in a room working together for a week, or something, to create an idea that we think we care about. So with Assemble with Care, which is the last game we released, that was myself and Leo, the person I was working with, came up with this idea of having these, kind of, nostalgic objects with tactile interactions that you could repair. And we keyed off this idea and made a prototype that had an example of both how it should feel, how it should work in terms of mechanics, like what is the person doing when they’re interacting with their phone and playing the game, but also in terms of story and emotion. So we built this level very early on where you build a cassette deck, you repair a cassette deck, and it’s quite simple. You, like, you unscrew the back cover and you change the batteries and you put the cover back on then you wind in the tape on the cassette tape, and then you put the cassette tape in. But what you hear when you press the play button is the story. So it’s the mother of a girl who is singing. But you come to realise that the girl who has brought you this cassette deck has actually lost her mom, and this is her lasting memory of her mom. It’s this recording of her singing on this cassette tape.
Bwalya: That’s cool.
Alex: That’s so deep.
Bwalya: Good origin story.
Matthew: Oh, thanks. Yeah, so we try to have an understanding of what the entire experience is very, very early on, because once you know what you’re trying to do, it becomes a lot easier to to build everything out.
Bwalya: So it’s a storytelling endeavour. So within your role, would you say part of that is, essentially, you’re a storyteller?
Matthew: I think that’s a good way of thinking about it. And the gaming medium allows you to do some fun things with that as well, because you can tell a story through words, and we do do that. We have these segments where you’re reading dialogue and you’re listening to words that the characters are saying. But you can also tell this story, as you say, through visual elements, and through play as well, like what is broken on the subject and why would it be broken? If an object looks like it’s been smashed, then it’s already telling you something about what the character has done to break that object. So, yeah, one of the fun things about the medium is you get to take advantage of all these different senses, both, kind of, visual audio and reading, but also interaction. How are you interacting with the experience or with the world? And does that inform you more about the story or the emotional journey as well?
Bwalya: OK, I actually-, I’m starting to get this a little bit more, especially with a tangible example, because before I’m like, what? So you just draw something and then you give it to someone who does numbers? Because I don’t… (laughs)
Matthew: But you can take it even simpler, right. Like, let’s say you want a car to be driving around. Then an artist might use a modelling tool or modelling software. So Blender is a free to use, very common, tool in our industry to create 3D models. And these are models that you will see in the game. And so they they use techniques that are actually really, really similar to sculpting. So a lot of modelling is based on sculpting techniques. It’s just, instead of sculpting this physical object, you’re sculpting this digital object. And a car, you can think of a car, you know, on the simplest level. If you want to do a really simple interpretation of it, then maybe it’s just, like, two cubes, right? One is like, stretched out, and the other one sits on top. And that might be enough to suggest to people it’s a car. So maybe an artist will put that together and they’ll have this 3D model and it will be a file on a computer, like a special format and in the game engine we use, which is Unity, which is another, kind of, free game engine that’s used across the industry…
Alex: Sorry, two seconds. What’s a game engine?
Matthew: Sorry, a game engine is a tool set that game teams use to create their games. So it handles a lot of the work, the underlying work, to show the game on the screen. To understand what controllers are plugged in. There’s, kind of, a set of problems that a game has to solve, and a game engine solves a lot of these for you.
Alex: And that one’s called Unity, was that right?
Alex: And that’s free?
Matthew: Yeah, it’s free, yeah.
Matthew: And it’s got a great community. It’s really well supported. Yeah, it’s perfect. It’s perfect to start out with. So yes, we take this call model which is in a format that the artist has made but that Unity understands, and then you can, the developer, or really the artist, or anyone, can drag this fall into the game itself where the game engine holds all your data and then it can pop it into the world for you. And you’ll see your box model of your car ready to be hooked up to things, ready to, kind of, move around with code, and with maths or anything like that.
Bwalya: I know you’ve touched on Blender, but what were the software pieces that you used that were free and, kind of like, the most exciting resources that maybe you use now?
Matthew: It’s like, kind of a short list. So Blender is huge and lets you make 3D stuff and Unity is huge and lets you basically just make almost the entirety of games-.
Bwalya: So big shout out to that one.
Alex: Yeah. And they’re both free.
Matthew: Yeah, they’re both free.
Bwalya: To use Unity, anyone who’s listening, you can learn about the software that Matthew just mentioned as well as the programmes on thisishow.uk, because those links are available and you should utilise them, especially if you just said that Unity lets you learn the entirety of games.
Alex: And are these things easy to learn? Because, I mean, it sounds great that they’re free, but in my head, I’m like, I’m going to download this, and within five minutes, just be like, “I don’t know what the hell this is.”
Matthew: So there are tutorials. There are YouTube tutorials out there that really help simplify things because it is daunting. I think a really good attitude is an attitude of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that took me a little bit of time to learn as well. But it’s OK to start something new and just to feel a bit overwhelmed. You should be like, “God, I have no idea, how am I going to get into this, how am I going to understand this? And then you just chip away bit by bit, very slowly. And really quickly, that sense of feeling lost will, kind of, be replaced with that confidence of like, “oh, cool, I’m kind of getting this now and I sort of am starting to understand how to create the thing I wanted to create.” You know what? Like, the thing that becomes OK once you’ve been working in games for a while is actually that everybody makes mistakes literally constantly.
Alex: Is there quite a lot of maths involved with this job? Is that something you need to be good at to become a developer, basically?
Matthew: It definitely helps. I actually hated maths for a really, really long time and I only started to enjoy maths when I started to make video games.
Alex: But if someone’s listening, and they’re like, “ah, man, up until now I thought this was my dream job, but I’m rubbish at maths. That’s it, I’m out.” Are they out? D’you know what I mean?
Matthew: No, absolutely not. It’s something that… So here’s the thing, right: people who think they’re rubbish at maths, I guarantee you they are totally capable of doing it. I feel like it’s just been badly taught. It hasn’t been engaged in the right way. It hasn’t been clear why it’s going to be fun. A lot of the maths for games… well, yeah, ironically, it’s sort of secondary school maths. It’s like, a lot of it is actually triangle based. So it’s not like you’re doing incredibly hard stuff. It’s just that you’re you’re taking these, kind of, fairly small maths things that, at least in my case, I basically once hated it, never remembered it, never once come back to it. But you’re finding this really fun way of actually using the same techniques. But to do things like, you know, someone throws up a ball in the air. You want to have someone in the game with a ball in the air; that’s definitely going to involve maths to work out where the ball is going to go. Or, you know, you want to shoot a gun. Well, again, you’re going to need maths to figure out the velocity of the bullet, and that kind of thing.
Alex: I’m guessing, as well, these software programmes your using help you out with this stuff, right?You’re not, like, with an A4 pad of paper just trying to work out these crazy maths codes.
Matthew: No, definitely. They’ve, again, they’ve solved some of the hard stuff for you. So you need to know what you want to use and you need to know why you want to use it. But you don’t always have to, you know, you don’t have to write a sheet of A4 to get it working.
Alex: What was your journey into that industry? Was it straight from like… Did you go to uni? Did you go straight from that into the gaming industry? Did you always know you wanted to chase that down or did you kind of, like, stumble your way in?
Matthew: Yeah. So to be honest, at school, at secondary school and A level, I really wasn’t planning to do something that technical. I actually really loved English. I really loved English and philosophy. And I really love writing. And I really enjoyed, you know, I wasn’t very good at it, but I really enjoyed trying to tell stories through writing. And for a long time, I thought that that’s where I was leaning towards and then at A level and moving into university… So I did computing at A-levels, I did maths computing and I also did philosophy and English. And when I did computing, this was the first time I’d ever done programming. And I wasn’t expecting… I mean, I knew I was a geek as a kid, right. Like, I enjoyed playing video games and I was definitely nerdy. So I loved the technical side of stuff, but I didn’t realise how much I’d enjoy the act of actually creating things with code. Yeah, and maybe you can compare it to something like the act of writing, the actual tool you’re using to create something was enjoyable in and of itself to use. And games is an easy example of this. But coding in general is quite a creative process. Like, you’re doing something very logical. At the end of the day, you’re creatively solving the problem. And blending those two things is what I love most about it, it’s that you’re not just scientific, it’s not just technical. It is also creative.
Alex: I really like this idea that you’re saying, that you, kind of, wanted to go into English and philosophy because you liked storytelling, but realised that writing wasn’t the way for you to tell stories. I think there’s a good lesson in there that, like, especially early on just follow your passions and don’t worry too much about how that’s going to translate to a career later on, right?
Alex: You’re a good example of that.
Matthew: I knew what I enjoyed. Right? I knew that I enjoyed English. I knew that I enjoyed philosophy. I knew that I enjoyed computing. I hated maths, but I knew I enjoyed the others. And when I went to uni and even straight after uni, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no plan at all.
Bwalya: What did you do at uni again?
Matthew: So I ended up doing computer science at uni, which is basically learning programming more than anything.
Bwalya: How did you find it?
Matthew: Yeah, really didn’t enjoy it (laughs).
Alex: I’m hearing some really confusing stories here. You hated maths, so you went and did computer programming at uni and you hated it.
Matthew: Worst choice (laughs).
Bwalya: And it sucked (laughs).
Matthew: Maybe I should give some better detail there.
Alex: Maybe you just love doing stuff that you hate.
Alex: While we’re talking about this, actually, it’s a good time to question. In this industry, is formal education important in that? Are you expected a degree?
Matthew: You know what? 10 years ago, yes. But honestly, thankfully now it’s much less important. Like one of the really cool…
Bwalya: Yaaay I looove that. I’m a uni dropout, so that makes me so happy.
Matthew: Yeah. Be proud. So one of the really cool things about the games industry is these free tools. Unity and Blender and other things like that. Like, people are making things in their own time, really inspiring stuff that is self-taught and it’s really creative and it looks amazing. And there’s a giant Twitter community and a Discord community around creating game experiences, kind of, with friends or on your own or with people that you’ve met online even. And so again, when it comes to applying to companies, when it comes to getting a job, if somebody has made experiences that are impressive and exciting and they have shown that they have self-taught some of those skills, then especially at those, kind of, more junior levels, that is really valuable! That’s hugely valuable. Yeah, for sure.
Bwalya: If that is you right now listening and you thought of a gaming idea, start hustling that and working on it. And also it doesn’t have to be perfect for you to then start approaching people and showing them that you’ve had the knowhow. And those courses to start getting to do those things are available at thisishow.uk. You can find out about free courses that you can do to build up your own knowledge at your own pace on the platform. And maybe you can send your CV, or I guess your CV in the form of a game, and you can send that off the companies.
Alex: I think it’s important to say as well, now, that if you’re listening to this and you haven’t done any of this before, but you think this sounds like something you’re interested in or the kind of job or industry you want to move into, get on there and get started. Don’t delay that. Just start teaching yourself now. There’s free software out there. There’s free tutorials. From the sounds of things formal education isn’t even that important anymore. So just start building your own up.
Matthew: Yeah. And I think, you know, that idea of- how did you describe it earlier? Like, not worrying about making something that isn’t perfect is so important because what matters at that stage is, you’re probably not going to make something you’re really proud of until you’ve been doing it for five or six years, because you learn through the things that are imperfect. And that’s actually really important. So just having that, like, that humility of being OK with, you know, trying out an idea and it didn’t quite work, that’s totally fine. But also, yeah. Having that, again, that will to dive into something hard and self teach it and learn it and get better at it.
Alex: Let’s bring this back to jump off points in your career then. What was your entry point into the games industry?
Matthew: Yeah, so after all, in my final year of uni, I was doing an internship at UBS Bank, which is actually an investment bank in London.
Alex: I’m guessing that’s not making games, right?
Bwalya: Slash making passionate dreams happen (laughs).
Matthew: I think this is what happened when I didn’t know what I wanted to do because, like, I went to university and I loved… I really enjoyed the experience of being at university. I loved making friends. I loved having a good time. But the actual stuff I was learning, like, I wasn’t… again, it was like learning maths. I didn’t really understand what it was going to be useful for. I think part of that is probably to blame on me. Like, I didn’t really know what I could do with it. And so what actually happened at the end of university is I basically just took the first job that came along and our university had a lot of ties with investment banks. So a lot of people were, you know, encouraged to apply. So I applied as well because everybody else was doing it. And I got a job there, and I started working there. And I just realised for everybody who was working there didn’t really care about what, you know…again, they weren’t passionate about what they were doing. They were there to do their job and do their job well and get paid well for it. But really, what they were creating was not that important to them. And when I was a lot younger, I looked down on that, which is really actually now that I’m older, I’ve realised is actually not really fair and a bit disrespectful. Because, to be honest, I think it’s OK to take a job that maybe isn’t exciting or, you know, that you’re not super passionate about, because actually what you care about is funding your life outside of work and you have an awesome time outside of work. And that’s totally that’s totally fine. But yeah, it was thanks to that experience that I was like, I don’t think I’m going to be happy if I’m not working with people who aren’t super passionate about what they do. And so I decided, you know, after six months of that, that I was just going to try applying for something that I cared about. And I did play games growing up. And there was this company called Rare in the midlands, who have an office literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s next to a zoo, and that’s it. There’s nothing else.
Matthew: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Bwalya: It’s all so conflicting; zoos really upset me, but also fab!
Matthew: So this is a company that made a lot of games that were influential on my childhood. So when I realised I didn’t really want to work for a bank, I just was like, “okay, well, I’m just going to apply to this place that is a bit of a childhood, you know, dream, I guess. Or make games that I loved and just see what happens.” So I sent off one application to this company and thankfully got pulled into an interview. I remember being terrified in this interview because there was one guy who just wasn’t talking at all. There were three people interviewing me; two of them were really engaged and the other one just looked so bored. So bored!
Alex: There’s always that one, right. It’s their job to freak you out (laughs).
Matthew: And I was sure they basically hated me.
Matthew: It turned out it wasn’t deliberate. I remember I asked him about it afterwards and he’d just had like a really bad day or something, you know, it just wasn’t-.
Alex: It’s easy to overthink that stuff, isn’t it though.
Matthew: Yeah, for sure. Especially when it’s your first few times doing interviews. It’s always terrifying. But yeah, thankfully got in there, and yeah, for the first couple of years, my career started making console games. I worked on Halo, which is probably the biggest game, in terms of popularity, that I’ve worked on. And yeah, I was working in this company full of, thankfully, incredibly talented people. People who are incredibly passionate about what they do. And yeah, I’m just so thankful for the people I worked with and the manager I had, who was an amazing person who really helped guide me for my first couple of years. Made all the difference.
Alex: This is a really good time for a Segway about mentors actually. So who are the people that shaped your career, including that manager? Start with them.
Matthew: Yeah. Yeah. So, these aren’t going to be famous people, you know, and that’s…My mentors were often-.
Bwalya: I don’t know any famous people in gaming (laughs).
Alex: I’d be more shocked if you suddenly listed all your mentors were famous people Matthew (laughs). I love how you say that with some kind of, “I’m sorry to let you down, but none of these people-“.
Matthew: Sorry, guys. Yeah. So the first manager I had was this guy called Richard Newham, who was just an incredibly patient, friendly, calm and insightful individual. And my first month working in this game studio with incredibly talented people around me was me making – I’m sure you guys know Space Invaders – so I was basically remaking Space Invaders.
Bwalya: Oh my God, I just downloaded it on my phone!
Matthew: Oh, cool (laughs). So, yeah. So, the first thing I did for a month was just make Space Invaders, but make it in 3D basically. So having this – I think the dolphin for some reason though, I found a dolphin model in the files I had – so I was like, “oh okay, I’ll use the dolphin as the space ship.” So it was basically dolphin firing lasers at Space Invaders.
Matthew: Oh my God, I love this already. Where can I download this?
Matthew: Sadly, never released, although I’m sure it would have been a massacre that probably infringed on some copyright (laughs). But yeah. So every few days – I was doing this for myself – and every few days Rich would come around and see what I was doing and, kind of, probe me in the right way or help me when I was stuck or, you know… The thing that was great about them is it’s not like he would just give me the answers. He wouldn’t just tell me what to do. He’d be like, “oh, OK, so you’re running into this problem. Why don’t you think about Googling this or why don’t you think about this idea?” And he made me realise that it was important to, I don’t want to say unblock myself, but I learnt the skillset of, again, having something difficult in front of me and struggling, but taking the time to research the thing I didn’t understand. Or find the resources I needed to learn about it and then spend the time learning about it so that I could come back the next day or two days later or whatever, and be able to solve that problem. To be able to tackle and some way.
Bwalya: I know that’s something I struggled with for a while, but I think that maybe we think of mental figures in a very traditional sense. And I have to start thinking about my friends, my family and a lot of other different sort of roots. Even people that I just really admired on YouTube that I didn’t know. As mentor figures, what are they like for you and where would you find them for gaming?
Matthew: So, I think the world has actually changed a lot since I had mentors, and actually, with Twitter taking off, there’s a giant community out there with people willing to help one another. And not only that, there are some explicit groups set up for mentorship where people are, kind of, trying to reach out to game developers and trying to link them up with mentorships. And actually, I know one of them, a friend of mine, runs a, kind of, female orientated mentorship programme where it’s specific for females to be helping other females.
Alex: Plug it, plug it, plug it! What’s the name?
Bwalya: Oh my God, love, who this icon?!
Alex: A real hero.
Matthew: Yeah, I can’t remember the specifics, but I’ll make sure I pull up some links for you guys.
Alex: OK cool, so if you’re listening and you want to find that out, then make sure you head to thisishow.uk because we’ll have that there.
Bwalya: And if you want to find your own mentors but don’t know where to start, you can head to the platform and Matthew will have a few tips of maybe some Twitter handles that you can follow or some of the sites that you maybe haven’t managed to find when you’re going into deep Reddit subthreads. So thisishow.uk for free tools and websites on how to begin your own networking today.
Alex: You also mentioned how when you were getting into the industry, you know, social media hadn’t really even taken off yet and it’s all changed so much now, so what resources that exist today do you wish existed back then that would have really helped kick start your career?
Matthew: I think Twitter, more than anything. There’s so much positive… you know what? There’s so much negativity on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to pick through the noise sometimes. But my Twitter is… So I don’t really follow friends. I follow people in the games industry. And whilst there are still… Some proportion of Twitter is still scary to look at, and there are some people in there who are a little bit more hatefilled, on the whole, especially in the games industry, there’s so much support of positivity. There’s people sharing images of art they’re trying to create and getting feedback on it and getting liked and getting shared. And there’s, you know, I could just imagine stepping into that community.
Alex: You’re actually, kind of, recommending that people go and use Twitter almost like a social network for work specifically. Following people in the industry and interacting with them.
Matthew: Yeah, I think I would. I think. I mean, I don’t know what other industries are like. I know the games industry is quite Twitter heavy. But yeah, definitely, like if, again, if it’s something you’re passionate about and it’s something you want to try creating within, then that community exists.
Bwalya: I just thought you guys would be… Weirdly, I thought you guys would be like Reddit… I don’t know. Reddit just gives me more of a like a commun- maybe it’s the way the Reddit logo looks and the little forward slashing-.
Alex: It’s the branding, You were sucked in by the branding (laughs).
Bwalya: The branding to me screams gaming, so obviously I’m just an idiot (laughs).
Matthew: No, not at all. I think it’s because Twitter is a very visual… It’s a way to have very visual conversations.
Alex: And because games are such a visual medium, I think it’s easier to have those conversations and reactions on Twitter, to some extent, because it’s such a visual language. So I think Reddit is a bit less suited for conversations, that are so, kind of, artistically based, if that makes sense.
Bwalya: Yeah I hear you. What would you tell your younger self if they were in this industry starting now?
Matthew: I think the difference now is that, like, you can make your thing, your own thing. You can have an idea and actually make it by yourself. The tools are out there and they’re free. And they are easy enough to learn and be able to do that. And I think anybody trying to get into this industry, I would really recommend trying to make your own thing, because you’ll learn so much, and you will learn what kind of creative expression you care about.
Bwalya: Oh, I love that! Do it yourself, guys. That’s so nice. I think that so much fear is attached from actually believing in yourself enough to think that you can do it on your own without having, like, I don’t know, a name above your door. Doing it yourself is scary, but it’s so much more worthwhile when you can stand back, even if it’s not perfect. And look at something and be like, “oh, I made that.”
Matthew: There’s so much digital support as well. There’s, you know, the Slack communities, the Discord communities. There’s just… The amount of young people who are just sharing stuff on Twitter being like, “hey, check out what I’m trying to do.” And maybe they’re asking for help. Like, that social media support that didn’t really used to exist when I was starting out I think is really present now, and I think can help you not feel alone, even if you’re making something on your own. Actually, you are connected to this world out there that will help you along.
Alex: And I think that’s equally as important as going and making something for yourself, and having a go straight way is also having the courage to put that thing you’ve made in front of people like yourself, Matthew, and not being afraid of that. And reaching out to those people and saying, “look, this is what I’ve done. How could I do it better?” Or “how can I get this out in the world?” Or “what does it mean? What can I do with it?” I think that’s just as important.
Bwalya: I know that when I was starting out writing, I had a lot of passion for it, but access was particularly difficult for me. Getting into writing a lot of the time, I was speaking to a much older white male editor who wasn’t necessarily, at the time, interested in hearing black stories or hearing from a black woman be like, I want to talk about black hair before it was, like, a trend based thing. Something that I think has already been discussed quite a lot across the gaming industry is that access is quite difficult to get into that industry arena. How do you advise people? Because sometimes a cover letter for certain demographics isn’t enough?
Matthew: No, that’s a really important question, that’s really deep. And, you know, to preface everything I’m going to say next, I certainly do not think I’m the expert voice on this conversation. And it’s a really hard topic as well, because the games industry has been white male dominated for, actually, a really long time. And this conversation that is going on about diversity in the workforce is, I think, particularly apt for game development, because it has been weighted towards more privileged people for a really, really long time. And I think tackling those things is is going to take time and it’s going to be hard, but it absolutely has to be done. And that needs to be a… I feel like the thing that makes me feel encouraged by our studio is that it’s a transparent conversation. These kind of conversations that you’re raising are conversations we’re having internally on an almost weekly basis, and we really encourage… We’re small, right, we’re thirty people. Twenty five people, so we’re not massive. And we really encourage everybody, it doesn’t matter how junior they are or how senior they are, we encourage them to come forward and have these conversations, and we create breakout groups to try to figure out how to tackle some of these issues. In terms of solutions, again, it’s a very tricky one with… We, as in our studio, are trying to do quite a lot of outreach. We actually have an internship programme for underprivileged people, or people from slightly less privileged backgrounds in order to try to give them that opportunity to discover something that might be exciting.
Bwalya: That’s sick.
Matthew” We tend to do one week internships…
Bwalya: Those internship opportunities, are they ways for people to not only gain experience, but maybe stay within a community that they found, like say with you guys?
Matthew: It depends on the time in their life, of course. Like, maybe they are… I think our last internship was A level age? So they were going to university next, for example. But we certainly want to encourage the idea of it feeling like community. Like, we want to, I dunno, lower the barrier of accessibility as much as we can. I know every company says this. I wonder why every company says this, but we really do read every single application that comes to us.
Bwalya: Oh that’s fab!
Alex: That’s amazing to hear.
Bwalya: Oh, guys, if you’re thinking of… If anyone out there is thinking of making a game with, like, a central black female character (laughs), I’m game.
Matthew: You might like Assemble with Care, actually.
Bwalya: Fab. I mean, I live for a central black female character, and preferably there’s a sci fi thing attached to it as well, then yeah, make that game and send it to Matthew, thanks. I need that!
Alex: All right, cool. Mini CV time. So, if this is the first episode of this podcast you’ve tuned into, every episode we get our guest to fill out, just for fun, a little mini CV, and we’re going to go through it now. We haven’t seen it yet, so let’s see what Matt has written down. So name: Matt Newcombe. Hope we’re pronouncing that right? Tick! Yeah, we like to start warm and then easy. Socials, if you want to slide into the DMs @Matt_C_Newcombe, N E W C O M B E. And is that Instagram, Twitter?
Matthew: Yeah. Twitter.
Bwalya: Yeah it was never gonna be Instagram. He just is always on Twitter.
Matthew: That’s true (laughs).
Alex: I hope you’re on commission as well, I need to get some solid plugs in there (laughs). Job: lead developer. We’ve gone over that, it’s good. Company: UsTwo games.
Bwalya: We like them. They can stay.
Alex: Yeah. I’m liking the sound of them. Career, highlight: Bwalya, do you want to read that one out?
Bwalya: Yeah. Seeing the gasps and smiles of the elderly trying VR for the first time. (laughs) That is cruel, but also very funny.
Matthew: (Laughs) It’s quite personal to some extent. But it’s just like, you know when you make something and you show it to your friends and they sort of, you know, they sort of have to tell you that they like it?
Matthew: The cool thing about VR is like… You just put it on somebody. You know, some of these people are 60 plus and have never played video games in their life, and then you put this thing on them, and then you get to see because their mouth is under the visor, right. So you can see their expression, you can’t see their eyes. And then you just see they’re like jaw literally drop. And you just know they’re experiencing something.
Alex: I’ve got the best visual in my head right now.
Bwalya: Mine is if I did this to my dad, he would definitely have some sort of heart attack.
Matthew: Yeah, my mom actually refused to refuse to play it (laughs).
Bwalya: Last question: why should we hire you? Answer: if there’s nothing else, I’m happy to bring the teas to a meeting. Aww!
Matthew: Easy, right? That’s all you need to say in an interview.
Bwalya: Yeah, a cup of tea fixes everything.
Matthew: For sure.
Alex: Apparently so (laughs).
Bwalya: Well, fab, that concludes our interview. I think that Alex and I, after some deliberation, will probably say, yeah, you’ve got the job, dude.
Matthew: Amazing. Thank you.
Bwalya: In terms of last thoughts, it’s important to be a storyteller and a creative thinker. A lot of digital jobs centre around problem solving, but thinking of problem solving in a creative way, and I think with this one, your problem solving in a creative way has almost immediate benefits and that you can see really play out in front of you like a movie, that you get to be a part of. Which is really, really cool. And all of those things are built around a huge support network with tools like Blender and Unity, you’re able to actually create a very fully rounded experience, and there are people out there to help you.
Alex: And if you like variation in your job role and teamwork, and as Bwalya said, a lot of storytelling, then maybe this is the right industry for you.
Bwalya: You don’t have to like maths guys.
Matthew: Definitely not. You’ll learn to love it. That’s the important thing. You’ll learn to love it.
Bwalya: That’s good, because that’s a really difficult one for me.
Alex: Yes, because no-one does (laughs).
Matthew: It’s because it sucks at school!
Alex: You WILL LEARN TO LOVE IT (laughs).
Bwalya: Yeah, we didn’t mean to make it sound that creepy (laughs).
Alex: One other thing, actually, if you are putting together your CV at the moment and you’re firing it out for job roles, do not overlook the cover letter. Don’t do the classic, like, copy paste to everyone. People can see it a mile off.
Matthew: Yeah, especially ESPECIALLY if you’re starting out. A cover letter means more than anything.
Alex: Well that’s good. You’ve got to see that as an opportunity, right? Just be passionate, get it in there.
Bwalya: I’m going to say cheat a little bit. I’m going to say that for jobs that you don’t really care about and that you’re just getting in the money from, a cover letter that isn’t necessarily overly personalised, that you are copy pasting, that’s fine.
Bwalya: But if you’re going for something that you’re really passionate about and that… You really want that job, and you want the opportunity to prove how much you want it, then you should spend some time crafting something that is individual, and that makes you stand out, and that stays true to who you are.
Alex: I love it, this is optimisation at this point (laughs).
Bwalya: I just think that, you know, work smarter, not harder.
Alex: Yes. My favourite phrase. You’ve been listening to THIS IS HOW, created by Nominet and Livity, your essential resource for finding a path into digital careers at the companies you love. Head over to our website at thisishow.uk to listen to more episodes, find the industry role most suited to you and discover free training to help you get the job you want.
Bwalya: Thank you so much, that was a great interview.
Matthew: No, I appreciate the opportunity, and yeah, I really believe in the cause you guys are pursuing, so yeah, nice one.
Alex: You’re going to start getting pitches from both of us now (laughs). “And another idea Matthew!”
Bwalya: Well annoying (laughs).
Alex: “Make this game!”