Meet the Team: Universally Speaking’s Thomas Nicholas
Thomas Nicholas is one of the newest members of the Universally Speaking team. With over ten years experience working in Quality Assurance – including stints at developers Kuju and TT Games, and having roles ranging from lead tester to operations manager – Nicholas’ new job is as business development executive here at US. And we couldn’t be more excited to have Thomas on the team.
Let’s meet him.
What is your goal now you’re part of the Universally Speaking team?
My aim here at Universally Speaking is to bring my 10 years of industry experience and apply it to the business development effort. Seeing each project Universally Speaking is involved in be the best it can be by working together with development studios and publishers to provide optimum yet bespoke services.
How did you get involved in the video games industry, and how did you find your way to Universally Speaking?
I got involved through a general disinterest to be part of any other industry; video games caught my imagination and attention at a young age and has yet to let go.
My career started soon after my 18th birthday at Sega of Europe as a functional tester, from there I moved on to Kuju and then TT games. I started at Testronic labs as a project coordinator in 2009 and by 2012 I had been promoted to operations manager.
What does a typical day look like for you?
If I am in the office, a typical day for me would be catch up on emails, get in touch with those whose projects are currently being worked on, ensure that all is well and move on to business development.
Researching and keeping up to date with the industry is paramount… as is reaching out to potential collaborators to provide our services for.
Equally important is having a presence at video game and technology exhibitions around the world, these are researched and attended when at all possible.
With over ten years in the business, what has been your career highlight so far?
My ongoing career highlight has been working in games at the time of eigth generation consoles.
I feel this console generation is the most exciting time for the games industry, however, big and fast changes are afoot. From the ever-increasing market share of mobile games – both standalone and intertwined with traditional triple-A titles – to the trickle down of new VR technology, I’m finding this era to be my favourite.
What would you say are the biggest challenges about working in business development at Universally Speaking?
The biggest challenge of business development, I find, is getting that opportunity to shine as a service provider. After locking down that first meeting and/or online discussion, the real work can begin.
What sort of video games do you play?
I’m traditionally a console gamer with over 20 consoles set up at home. I’m happy playing most games; from the occasional Sensible Soccer game on the Mega Drive with my older brother – he still beats me – to Metal Gear Solid V on the PlayStation 4.
I have given PC gaming less attention than it deserves as of late, but I’ll soon be diving back in with the upcoming StartCraft 2 expansion, Planetary Annihilation and SOMA with a newly built gaming PC.
What advice would you give for someone trying to get into your sector?
Ask lots of questions at all available opportunities. Having a wider knowledge of the processes behind games prior and post release, not just an understanding of the singular role you are aiming for, will serve you well.
Don’t just read up on things if someone is there in front of you doing the job, ask. I’ve found along the way that the video games industry is quite unique; most people are happy to share information and explain processes when simply asked.
To get in touch with Thomas, simply drop him a line at TNicholas@usspeaking.com.
New consumer rights laws – what could it mean for Quality Assurance?
Last week, new UK laws were introduced that are designed to protect consumers who are shopping for digital products.
These laws are not new, they’ve been in the works since 2011, and were even finalised over a year ago. But as of last week, the laws come into effect. So what do they mean for video games?
The new Consumer Rights Act features some rules around online retailing (such as the wording allowed at check outs, how long consumers can legally wait for refunds and the abolishment of premium helplines). But most significantly to the games industry, are the legalities around digital download content.
Basically, digital game purchases must:
- Be of satisfactory quality, based on what a reasonable person would expect, taking into account the price of the goods.
- Be fit for purpose. If the consumer has a particular purpose in mind, he or she should make that clear when purchasing.
- Meet the expectations of the consumer.
Freemium games are not exempt from this. Although the free parts of the games do not require fixing if they’re broken, anything that a consumer pays for – DLC, microtransactions and so forth – are liable under the new laws.
These changes in consumer law follows a recent move by PC download service Steam, which offers a ‘no quibble’ refund policy. And its significance cannot be understated. Recently, major video games have failed to reach consumer expectations. Whether that’s the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight, last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo 5 or – going back a bit further – games such as SimCity and Battlefield 4. These are all titles that launched with major flaws, bugs and connectivity issues that left consumers angry, generating negative press reports in the process.
The best example recently would be the new Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 by Activision, which has been widely condemned in the media for its bugs and issues.
Under the new laws introduced last week, publishers and developers would be liable for refunds if they’re games are not up to scratch, so it is imperative that these creators avoid repeating the mistakes of those aforementioned titles.
The easy option for publishers to get around the need for improved quality is via the Early Access system, which was pioneered by Steam and has since been used by other digital stores. Early Access games are effectively Betas being sold to consumers, turning gamers into glorified bug testers. This will allow developers to avoid delays, keep the audience engaged with the product at the earliest stage and lower the cost of Quality Assurance.
However, there are drawbacks. Unprofessional QA tends to only find bugs triggered by ‘expected user behaviour’ and any minor bugs are rarely reported because it simply isn’t worth the consumer’s effort. What’s more, there has been some negativity around Early Access products in recent months – particularly games that take a long time to reach their finished state. One such game to effectively lose much of its audience due to an over-long Beta period was the zombie open world game DayZ. If development slows down, or has to change, for whatever reason, then the interest from consumers can be quickly lost. So Early Access and Betas do come with their own risk.
The most positive move that publishers and developers can make to ensure their games reach the quality bar expected (and thus avoiding refund requests and negative PR) is simply investing more in QA. As game development costs continue to increase, this may not sound financially prudent. However, the costs incurred by pushing a game out when it’s not ready is spiraling upwards as well.
The good news is that some publishers are adopting the ‘when it’s ready’ technique. Battlefield: Hardline and Evolve were two games released earlier this year, but were initially intended for Christmas 2014. Both EA and 2K Games delayed these titles because they weren’t ready, despite the fact that they would have missed that lucrative Q4 sales period. In fact, EA recently stated they would willingly delay Star Wars: Battlefront until 2016 if the game also wasn’t up to scratch – despite the fact it would mean missing the arrival of the new Star Wars movie at the end of this year (EA stresses the game is well on-course for this November).
Hitman, XCOM 2, Uncharted 4, Star Fox Zero, Homefront: The Revolution, The Legend of Zelda Wii U… these are all big games that were due out this year, but have been delayed to allow for more QA and development time.
Good Quality Assurance is not done under strict deadlines, and it seems the biggest publishers and developers are learning that by allowing more time to polish and test, they can avoid costly refunds and negative press reports.
Game makers have always cared about the user experience, but for those businessmen and women who do not have to deal with consumers directly, they can perhaps lose sight of what’s important. They’re possibly too focused on the budgets and the bottom line, and not enough on making something truly great.
Creating something that resonates, that excites people and inspires them, those are the reasons that game developers do what they do. Making a great video game should always be the top priority, and cutting costs to save a few quid is simply not worth the risk. Not anymore.