Simon Bland in Games


Interview: Microsoft's Andrew Webber

Greenshoots round two has just ended, offering regional games studios another unmissable chance to develop their own IP alongside Microsoft. Round one was a huge success and saw a handful of studios work with Creative England and the experts at Microsoft to make their game dreams a reality. Cut to today, and the teams that graduated round one currently have their completed games on sale in the Windows and iOS app stores.

Greenshoots sees Creative England and Microsoft working together to bring external investors in from day one, giving teams the chance to secure further funding as soon as possible. We caught up with Microsoft’s Marketing Director Andrew Webber to discuss Microsoft misconceptions, how games studios can help themselves and the return of Greenshoots...

What do you think is the most common misconception game studios have about working with Microsoft?

The number one common misconception is that by partnering with Microsoft they will be locked into only developing for Microsoft platforms or locked into using microsoft tools to develop and neither is true.

Has Greenshoots helped bridge the gap between studios and Microsoft?

The feedback we’ve had from the studios that were in the original Greenshoots programme is an emphatic yes - it absolutely has. Some of them came in with preconceptions that we will lock them down to our platform, that we would put them through the grinder of review and they experienced none of that which I think was a refreshing surprise for them. Of course, the great thing is each of the studios in the programme have an account manager, a point of contact within the dev team and those account managers are still working with the ones that have graduated,

What’s new about Greenshoots 2?

In Greenshoots number two I’ve recruited a publisher panel and I’m recruiting an investor panel. So I’ve got four publishers: Gameloft, 595, Team 17 and Green Man Gaming have all agreed to form a Greenshoots publisher panel. They will be involved from day one and therefore will have visibility on the games from the early stage all the way through the development cycle and at any point during that they can strike a publishing deal with the studio and of course advise the studios as a publisher on what they should be doing to make the game as discoverable and as marketable as possible.

I’ve also recruited two investors. I’ve got one crowdfunding investor and one seed funding investor and the same applies. They’ll be there from day 1, offering free mentoring to the studios to make sure the studios are investor ready, they have a business plan and know what the different options are if they’re looking for investment for free. You’ve got the ‘holy trinity’ as I call it: platform holder vested in the success of the game, a publisher brought in and an investor. It means you’re going to create the best game you can but also have a business that’s viable, investable and has cash flow,

What would you say to those who may be thinking about applying for Greenshoots 2?

It goes back to that holy trinity. Any game studio that wants to either publish a game on XBox One, publish a game on mobile or publish a game on tablet or desktop but lacks a number of things - perhaps lacks investment to develop a prototype, an ability to get in front of publishers or wants to get investment at the end of the process, then of course the way that Greenshoots is structured now all three of those things come together in this programme in addition to the support that they’ll get from the platform holder whilst they’re developing the game.

We provide them with an account manager, we provide them with technical support when needed, we lend them devices so they can test on phone, on tablet and of course if they’re developing for Xbox One, an XBox One developer kit as well. So as much as we can we try to minimise any of the pain for that start up so they can focus on what they do best which is developing the best game that they can,

What advice do you give people who want to get involved with Microsoft?

Microsoft, like any large platform holder is an enormous beast and it’s very difficult to figure out. In the UK we employ about 6,000 people and like any vast company, it’s very matrixed and can be bewildering and confusing to any organisation but particularly small games studios, to know where to begin. So the advice I give them has to be very clear. For games studios, start with the Microsoft developer team, which is the team I sit within. I make my email very publicly known and they could even start with me. It’s always best to go through one person at the developer team and we can then refer you to the right team you need to talk to.

What do you look for in budding game teams?

Firstly and most importantly we look for a passion and desire to see the game come to life. Number 2, that they’ve thought through very carefully about who the game is targeted at. Why would they - your target audience - want to play and purchase within this game? We’re not looking for a detailed plan, it’s just to demonstrate that they’ve recognised that they’re building a product to sell, they’re not building a vanity product. Yes of course we want to know what the game concept is but to be honest we’re not experts about what necessarily is going to be a massive hit and what won’t be a massive hit but we do know that your chances are increased significantly if you always put your end customer within your development approach.

The third one, and this is more a development style, we typically look more favourably on those who have developed a game that can port across platforms with maximum code reuse. Whether they use a middleware like Unity, Marmalade or Game Maker or they’ve created their own engine. Purpose being that for them to be successful in the world of mobile gaming you’ve got to be across a number of different platforms,

What have you found is the most common struggle start ups experience and what advice do you offer to help them overcome it?

A common struggle is going back to point two: they lose their way in terms of who they’re actually developing in the game for. I use the analogy of calling someone’s baby ugly - it’s the same thing. When you say to them ‘great game but actually no one's interested’ they’re horrified and they’ll either take two paths: they’ll carry on, determinedly and doggedly saying ‘well I love this everyone else should’ - that’s doomed to fail or they’ll actually take the feedback on board even if they don’t like it and adjust the game to fit the audience.

It’s a commoditized product, you’re trying to sell it. Whether you’re trying to sell it through in-app purchases or as a premium pay, you’re still trying to sell it and like any classic retail scenario you sell a product to a customer set and you always think about what it is the customer is looking for. The second common one is nothing to do with games development it’s actually running a business. They struggle often to recognise that they’re also running a business and that requires different skills around the understanding of legals, financials, recruitment of actually running a business as a CEO.

The Greenshoots programme is ran by Creative England in partnership with Microsoft UK and offers successful candidates the opportunity to develop a brand new IP for the Windows platform. Round 2 includes workshops and business expertise from Microsoft, Creative England and industry partners and helps developers kick-start their game project and ensure it reaches a global audience. 

To find out more about Greenshoots, head here

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