Game Changers: Channel 4

Game Changers: Channel 4

By Stuart Richardson

July 27th 2010 at 8:30AM

Alice Taylor discusses C4's Develop Award-winning indie game commissions

This feature is the latest in our series of Amiqus-sponsored Game Changer profiles – articles chronicling the firms reshaping video games development.

Channel 4 has a history of breaking new ground in entertainment. Lesbian kisses, reality TV, free film stations and 3D TV. The broadcaster’s educational output, however, rarely attracted much attention over the years.

Things began to change in the latter part of 2007, however. Alice Taylor arrived from the Beeb in the summer to take over as comissioning editor for the education department. A few months later, and a substantial chunk of that department’s budget was shifted from broadcast media to digital media. Taylor explained the move as helping the educational content reach its intended audience of 14 to 19-year-olds, who were for the most part otherwise engaged during the ring-fenced time-slot for TV content aimed at them, which  had been going out between 9.30 and midday on weekdays.

The change was very successful. Roughly half of the annual department budget now finds its way to UK indie studios who are developing content like the BAFTA-winning title Bow Street Runner. Beatnik Games, Littleloud Studios, Zombie Cow and Six to Start are just a few of the other UK indies to have benefitted so far.

When Develop caught up with Taylor again recently, it quickly became clear that the Channel 4 education department had no intention of slowing down its output.

“We’ve just signed Jim Rossignol’s Big Robot, so he’s off to think about cities and happiness for us,” she says.

“We’ve also received our finished proposal from Failbetter Games on the theme of death and interpersonal relationships. Our first big Unity game, Ada, is nearly in beta. Routes just won the Prix Jeunesse and Smokescreen won best game at SXSW. We’ve also got a growing pile of pitches in response to our recent briefing for what we’re after in 2011.”

The workload alone speaks volumes about the level of passion Taylor and all at Channel 4 are approching their work with. Taylor is also keen to mention the new ways in which their games will be heading out into the world.

“We’re currently smiling at Android. Although it’s yet to show up stats-wise in our ‘we go were teens go’ mantra, we’re confident that it will,” she explains. “As for the non open-source platforms, iPhone/iPod Touch, consoles and the like, we’re still putting out content there were possible, but there’s a submission process in place which means we have less control over our publishing ability.”

FUTURE PERFECT

The changes that have already and are now occurring within the games development industry also seem to interest Taylor and shape her plans for the future.

“Digital distribution, and more powerful home PCs and handhelds, means that we can make fabulous games and reach millions of people without having to spend millions.”

“There’s a middle range now that didn’t exist before, the fascinating space between one-person-hobby and triple-A behemoth, and it has the largest audience size as well. That’s where most of our indies are already, ten to 20 people on average. Some say it’s like games development used to be, back in BBC Micro and Acornsoft days.”

Taylor is a great figurehead for the continuing educational games project at Channel 4. Her dedication to and command of the subject is obvious, but she is also very affable, and her enthusiasm is easy to catch.

“It’s fertile ground. Education has a special contract; as we have a public purpose to fulfil, so our games are paid for outright, upfront and during development with final payment on successful launch,” she says of the process behind the publishing.

“Our games have no outright commercial remit, but educational and reach targets. The developer gets to keep the underlying IP, and commercial exploitation isn’t entirely ruled out either.”

As for the long-term, Taylor is somewhat at-ease for the moment. And why not? In games Channel 4 is doing very good work indeed.

 

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