30 Under 30: 2016 Edition

30 Under 30: 2016 Edition
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

January 27th 2016 at 11:34AM

30 Under 30, in association with OPM, celebrates the future of games development. From students and graduates to established developers, there’s an abundance of promising young talent out there – and Develop has scoured the globe for the very best

Josh Naylor
Technical Evangelist, Unity Technologies
Age: 24

Josh Naylor joined Unity after graduating from the University of Hull and has quickly become an integral member of the evangelism team.

Throughout the past 12 months, he has travelled around the world to meet the Unity community, speaking at major events such as Unite Europe, Casual Connect Amsterdam and Tel Aviv, Nordic Game, Pocket Gamer and Game Camp Portugal.

Described by colleagues as “super smart, kind and friendly” and a credit to his team, Naylor knows the Unity engine inside and out and is frequently ready to help any colleague or developer.

Anna Ljungberg
Senior AI Programmer, Radiant Worlds
Age: 27

Anna Ljungberg came to the UK from Sweden to study AI and was soon snapped up by Codemasters as a graduate programmer.

She has since moved to Radiant Worlds, where she is working on the studio’s debut title SkySaga. She is commended by colleagues for her passion for taking on new things, whether it’s different projects or learning new languages.

She has also become a role model for aspiring female developers, actively working with Women In Games and promoting the games industry as a potential career path to young people.

Sam Parras
Programmer, Sumo Digital
Age: 24

A former Bristol University student, Sam Parras was the winner of last year’s Search For A Star competition, organised by Aardvark Swift. He is the first to have won both this and its sister initiative Rising Star, having claimed the latter title the previous year.

The judges were impressed by both his in-depth knowledge and clear enthusiasm for games development, and his talents attracted the attention – and job offers – of multiple leading studios. He is particularly skilled in C++ coding, receiving the highest score in the competition’s opening test, and currently works at Sumo Digital.

Sam Faulkner
Art Director, VooFoo Studios
Age: 26

During his six years at VooFoo Studios, Sam Faulkner has risen from junior artist to art director, proving himself as a strong artist in both creative and technical fields.

VooFoo prides itself on creating games with high quality visuals, and co-workers say Faulkner has “played a very major role in that”. His artwork includes the in-game assets for Pure Pool, Pure Hold ‘Em and Backgammon Blitz, as well as a “significant portion” of Pure Chess.

He is now working on VooFoo’s upcoming title, due to be announced later this year, which is expected to “raise the bar of visual fidelity several notches further”.

Charlie Czerkawski
Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer, Guerilla Tea
Age: 29

One of the four co-founders of Dundee studio Guerilla Tea, Charlie Czerkawski manages to balance his time between handling the company’s external communications and guiding the creative vision of its game design. Overseeing everything from gameplay balancing and level design to creative writing, he has been instrumental in establishing Guerilla Tea as one of Scotland’s top studios.

He also mentors students at the world-renowned Abertay University and authored an e-book, Breaking into Video Game Design: A Beginner’s Guide.

Andy Sum
Director, Hipster Whale
Age: 25

Andy Sum is half of Hipster Whale, the team behind hugely popular mobile title Crossy Road, which has racked up over 115 million downloads and was the most downloaded free app for both iPad and iPhone in 2015. He has also co-created and released similar games Shooty Skies and Bandai Namco collaboration Pac-Man 256.

Hipster Whale’s success earned the studio an Apple Developer Award last year, and Sum himself was invited on stage at Apple’s September conference to announce Crossy Road for Apple TV. He is described by friends as “an inspiration to the local game development community”.

Matthew Teague 
Game Designer, Marmalade Game Studio
Age: 25

Matthew Teague joined Marmalade as a support engineer back in 2013 and has since worked his way up to game designer, helping to shape the studio’s biggest releases.

Peers say Teague “quickly proves his worth to everything he is involved in” offering considered and promising solutions to any brief or problems he is presented with. He is happy to tune, tweak and integrate content from other disciplines in order to improve the game he is working on, and has even taught himself new skills such as video editing in order to promote Marmalade’s releases.

Yan Knoop
Placement Programmer, Sumo Digital
Age: 22

The winner of last year’s Rising Star competition, organised by Aardvark Swift and Sumo Digital, Yan Knoop is a graduate of the Netherlands’ famed NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences.

In fact, Knoop is the competition’s first winner from a university outside the UK and his victory won him an exclusive intern opportunity with Sumo, where he is currently adding to his skills.

During the competition, he impressed the judges with his Unity game project Block Dodger, achieving the second highest score for gameplay in that round of Rising Star.

Oleg Taliuk
Art Director and Co-founder, EON Games
Age: 29

Co-founder of the Belarus-based studio behind Fold The World, Oleg Taliuk began his career at Minsk’s 1-ST music TV channel as a 3D artist.

His passion for games development soon led him to stints at a variety of studios within the area, including Steel Monkeys, EliGames and D-soft Group. He even spent a year or so working as an architect before helping to establish Eon Games.

Fold The World, released in November, has racked up more than 2m downloads and was named one of the App Store’s best 2015 releases. Taliuk says he always strives to “create something original, unique and memorable”.

Joe Brammer
Producer and Owner,Bulkhead Interactive
Age: 23

Forming Deco Digital with a group of friends from university, Joe Brammer is a vital member of the team behind first-person adventure Pneuma: Breath of Live. The team has earned critical acclaim for Pneuma, as well as the kudos of making the first current generation title to be powered by Unreal Engine 4.

The success of the title enabled Deco to merge with Bevel Studios to form Bulkhead, where Brammer serves as producer. He is known for his “incredible passion and enthusiasm for game”, and is commended for responding well to feedback on his game concepts after pitching them to publishers.


Elisha Brown
Community Manager, NextGen Skills Academy
Age: 25

Elisha Brown is responsible for handling the social media channels at NextGen Skills Academy, the industry-led initiative that launched in the UK last year. She engages with students, industry member and academia, as well as regularly updating the website and working alongside the marketing and PR team.

A graduate of Derby University, colleagues say Brown has “a real passion for games” and works closely with young people who are interested in starting careers in the industry, making her instrumental in growing the community around the NextGen Skills Academy.

Andrew Bennison
Managing Director, Prospect Games
Age: 26

Andrew Bennison is the brains behind up-and-coming indie studio Prospect Games, as well as a well-known and valuable member of the games development community in Manchester. His team is currently working on Unbox, a quirky physics-based game.

He has also organised a number of local developer events, from social mixers to indie showcases, and handles the North West game developers’ Facebook group. He even gives business talks to students. Praised for his ambition and keen business mind, big things are expected for Bennison in the future.

Alex Rose 
Lead Developer and Director, Vorpal Games
Age: 24

Tipped to potentially be the next indie millionaire, self-taught coder Alex Rose is an inventive developer who has gone to great lengths to forge connections within the industry.

A regular competitor of game jams and winner of Ludum Dare 28’s innovation category, he is currently building up to the release of his first commercial game Super Rude Bear Resurrection for PS4 and Steam.

The title has even garnered praise from Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida and Xbox’s Phil Spencer, received funding from PlayStation Campus and was nominated as best indie game at last year’s Tokyo Game Show.

Anisa Sanusi
UI Artist, Frontier
Age: 25

Malaysia-born Anisa Sanusi was a student of Teeside University and currently works at Elite: Dangerous studio Frontier. She already has seven released games under her belt, with an eighth on the way in the form of Planet Coaster.

Sanusi has become an advocate for women to join the games industry, volunteering for mentoring and careers events, working with BAFTA Crew Games and offering feedback on student work at university game jams.

One colleagues says: “I’ve never met anyone more self-driven both in the quality of her art and in her desire to take on new challenges.”

Shanee Nishry
Software Engineer, Google
Age: 26

Shanee Nishry is a self-taught game developer who proved herself to be worthy of a position at Google, where she now works on virtual reality, the new Vulkan graphics API and other technology. Her peers particularly praise her inventiveness and understanding of VR game design, saying her ability to distill best practices for the relatively uncharted sector is “second-to-none”.

Nishry is also known for her public speaking, offering design advice at Google I/O, ARM’s developer days and the Intel Buzz Workshops – she has even been known to integrate her hobby, medieval sword fighting, into her presentations.

Rachael Gregg-Smythe 
Assistant Producer, Ripstone
Age: 27

Described as a “leader, problem solver and innovator”, Rachael Gregg-Smythe began her career at SCEE as a functionality tester. She shied away from the world of architecture after she graduated to follow her passion for games, joining Sony full-time.

Since then, she has developed her knowledge of game design and quality assurance until she was brought into Ripstone to expand the firm’s production department and create a new QA team.

In her spare time, she plays an active role in the Women in Games strategy group and mentors young women in the industry. She also dabbles in cosplay. 

Liz Mercuri
Programmer, Steel Minions
Age: 29

Liz Mercuri’s career is off to a strong start thanks to her selection by BAFTA and Warner Bros as a Prince Williams Scholar to study a Masters in games development.

Now in the second year of her course, she has joined Sheffield Hallam University’s student-run studio Steel Minions and is working on an educational game for PS4. Mercuri is focusing her research on virtual reality, with published material on VR Focus and other sites, and hopes to create a VR horror title.

She has mentored participants in the BAFTA Young Game Designer workshops, as well as local initiative Django Girls.

Pamela Peterson 
Producer, Climax Studios
Age: 25

Beginning her career as a QA tester in 2008, Pamela Peterson has already worked her way up through the ranks of QA lead, assistant producer and now producer.

She started at her current studio Climax last year and soon took the lead on the PS Vita port of the developer’s acclaimed action spin-off trilogy Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles.

She has also released two best-selling Gear VR titles, Bandit Six and Salvo, and is hard at work on a third, determined to contribute as virtual reality finally becomes widely available to the public later this year.

Jonas Johansson 
Lead Programmer, Rovio Stockholm
Age: 29

Jonas Johansson has already built up an impressive CV, with nine years of experience working at Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios and German powerhouse Crytek.

He currently works at Rovio’s Stockholm studio, where he led the programming team behind smash hit mobile sequel Angry Birds 2, which launched last summer and racked up more than 50m downloads in its first two months.

His keen interest in games development stretches beyond his work in larger studios, as he forms half of two-man team Tiny Cactus and has even tried his hand at composing music.

Matt Conn
CEO, MidBoss
Age: 28

Matt Conn is known as a major leader in the fight for “the inclusion of queer themes and developers in the games industry”.

Founder and CEO of San Francisco studio MidBoss, Conn is also responsible for the LGBTQ-focused convention GaymerX, which has been running successfully for three years with over 2,000 attendees at each event. He also produced the “gaymer” documentary Gaming in Color.

He’s a skilled developer, instrumental in the creation of cyberpunk adventure Read Only Memories. One peer said: “He fights hard every day to push diversity and shape the culture around him.”

Lucy Morris 
Lecturer, Media Design School
Age: 25

Lucy Morris is a lecturer at Auckland’s Media Design School, where she teaches students 2D Art, Game Design and Ethics in Games, as well as helps with the institute’s accelerator programmer.

She is also the co-founder of the New Zealand chapter of the IGDA, the NRW Game Developers community and local indie Group Pug. Morris set up Women in Games New Zealand and Asylum Jam, a yearly competition to create horror games that do not revolve around negative mental health tropes.

She is currently conducting research into romance in games.

Liam Esler
Event Manager, Game Developers’ Association of Australia
Age: 24

One of the mainstays of the Australian games development scene, Liam Esler has previously worked as a writer, designer and producer at studios such as Obsidian Entertainment and Beamdog, as well as publisher Surprise Attack. Last year he managed the Game Connect Asia Pacific conference, as well as the Australian Game Developers Awards.

He also co-founded GX Australia with co-director Joshua Meadows to bring GaymerX to Australia. Esler still has a hand in games development, helping Beamdog with the new Baldur’s Gate add-on and helping several local indies to ship their games through the Get That Game Done initiative.

Jane Tan
Artist, Ubisoft Singapore
Age: 24

Nominated as a prime example of an intern becoming a full-blown traditional, Jane Tan has brought her creative vision and talent as an artist to Ubisoft’s flagship franchise Assassin’s Creed.

She was responsible for key art assets in 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity and over the course of five years has contributed to four more entries in the series, including Assassin’s Creed III, Brotherhood, Revelations and Black Flag.

Tan’s talent, and that of her colleagues at Ubisoft Singapore, is a great showcase of why the publisher invests so heavily in global development for its key titles.

Cherie Davidson
Associate Producer, Media Molecule
Age: 25

Cherie Davidson has worked across a wide range of projects over the past 12 months, starting as a programmer on PS4 and Steam title Wander.

In May, she was awarded the Film Victoria International Fellowship and a placement at Media Molecule, where she helped to complete Tearaway Unfolded.Her hard work and keen skills earned her a permanent position as associate producer on an upcoming title.

Davidson has also taught at RMIT, chaired the 2015 Freeplay Awards and appeared at events such as the ACER Stem Challenge and Women In Games luncheon during Melbourne International Games Week.

Steph Charij
Designer, Avalanche Studios
Age: 26


Steph Charij is an alumni of the University of Derby’s computer games programming degree and shot to success before her mortar board hit the ground. Her dissertation on the use of real-time biometrics in games impressed Mad Max dev Avalanche Studios enough to hire her immediately.

It’s a role she still holds today, having contributed significantly to Avalanche’s games and even earned the studio’s internal Most Valuable Player: Passion award last year. One former colleague confesses to mistaking her for a senior designer when they first met – she was an intern at the time.

Alexia Christofi
Production Assistant, Lionhead Studios
Age: 25

The youngest producer at the Fable studio, Alexia Christofi originally joined Lionhead as a production intern. She impressed her superiors so much, they snapped her up as a full-time employee. She is now in charge of the most crucial feature of the studio’s upcoming Fable Legends: the villain gameplay.

Commended for her energy and excitement, she is also knowledgeable about the Agile and Scrum methodologies and their role in games development. She is just as enthusiastic about connecting with players, both through the forums and at gaming events.

Christie Sandy
Producer, Team17 Digital
Age: 26

Christie Sandy started her career at Team17 back in 2011 and has risen to become producer on some of the firm’s biggest projects. Last year, she oversaw the making of and was a fundamental part of the team handling million-selling indie hit The Escapists.

Prior to these, Sandy was responsible for the mobile offshoots of the Worms series on mobile, which have racked up more than 10m downloads, as well as Alien Breed. Colleagues praise her passion for the industry and her dedication to her role, saying she is “a delight to work with”.

Gina Nelson
Artist, The Secret Police
Age: 25

A self-taught 2D artist from South Africa, Gina Nelson recently joined The Secret Police, the London-based start-up that has attracted investment from Ian Livingstone, Terraria creator Finn Brice and former Sega president Hayao Nakayama. There, Nelson is working on the studio’s first title, an unannounced Japanese RPG for mobile.

Prior to this, she spent two years working at Relentless Software on projects for clients such as Hasbro and LucasArts. Back in South Africa, she trained as an artist at a games company in Johannesburg, freelancing and even working in comic books. 

Helen Bower (née Lauder)
Voiceover Project Manager, PitStop Productions
Age: 28

Celebrating eight years at services firm PitStop, Helen Bower is a voiceover project manager and handles everything from casting and scheduling recording sessions, to training and developing staff and managing post production, often dealing with scripts that contain thousands of lines of dialogue.

Projects she has worked on include games such as Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles, Divinity: Original Sin, Grid Autosport and Binary Domain. Praised by her clients for striving to deliver the best possible audio, Bower aims for perfection in every aspect, from actor performance to recording and edit quality. 

Anton Stenmark
CTO, Arrowhead Games Studios
Age: 29 

Dubbed by peers as someone “destined for greatness in games”, Anton Stenmark started his career way back in 2009 as lead programmer at Sweden-based Arrowhead Games Studios.

During his first three years, he worked on the studio’s biggest successes such as action games Magicka and The Showdown Effect, as well as top-down shooter Helldivers.

He was later promoted to CTO for the company and has spent the past three years helping to improve the quality of Arrowhead’s games. Outside of work, Stenmark experiments with 3D printing and plays Airsoft.


We received an absurd number of worthy nominations this year, but sadly not everyone can make the final list. Here are the other contenders:

Aaron Bridgett, Reflections Abhishek Sagi, Auroch Digital Abhisake Goyal, Yes Gnome Adam Boyne, BetaJester Adam Dart, Team Junkfish  Adrienne Hunter, Tomorrow Today Labs Alex Norton, Fluffy Knuckleduster Andy Booth, D3T Angelika Bugl, Splash Damage Antonela Pounder, 505 Games Ashton Anderson, Virtual Basement Attillo Carotenuto, Himeki Aurore Dimopoulos, Unity Basil Lim, BitSmith Ben Cottage, Splash Damage Ben Scroggins, Reflections Bertie Millis, Virtual Umbrella Boon Keng Goh, Ubisoft Singapore Brian Beacom, Guerilla Tea Bryan Yeo, Ubisoft Singapore Catharina Due Bohler, Sarepta Chris Randle, freelance audio designer Christian Frausig, Hammerhead VR Christophe Malarmey,  Ubisoft Singapore Christopher Robert Wilson, Playground Games Christos Reid, Creative Assembly Cian McNabola, Aeria Games Daniel Thompson, PitStop Danny Goodayle, Just a Pixel Danny Hung, Ubisoft Singapore Dominic Birmingham, Lionhead Dorottya Kollo, Splash Damage Duncan Mackinnon, Frontier Edward Thorley, The Secret Police Emma Siu, Firemonkeys Fang Liang Lee, Ubisoft Singapore Franco Perez, Ubisoft Singapore Gabriel Pendleton, Baltimore Game Lab Geoff Newman, Endlife Grzegorz Reglinski, Simbite Hannah Bunce, BBC Hannah Payne, freelance artist Henry Hoffman, Fiddlesticks Jack Smith, Splash Damage  Jack Houghton, Sumo Digital Jack Ward-Fincham, Stainless James Cubitt, Universally Speaking Jarryd Huntley, independent Jesse Busch, Flying Mollusk Joe Cavers, Rockstar North John Howe Marshall, Xsplit John Paul Tan, Ubisoft Singapore Josh Heyde, Reflections Junjie Lin, Ubisoft Singapore Katie Goode, Triangular Pixels Karl Inglott, Abertay University Kim Allom, Defiant Development Louise James, Generic Evil Louise McLennan, Frontier Lukas Roper, Opposable Games Mark Verkerk, Splash Damage Matt Skingle, NaturalMotion Michael Duwe, Modern Dream Mitchell Clifford, 5 Lives Studios Nataša Mladenović, Eipix Nathan John, Gaming Corps Oliver De-Vine, Ghost Town Oren De-Panther Weizman, Total-Viz Paul Leishman, Team Rock Peter Harries, Butcherlab Piers Duplock, EeGeo Ric Cowley, independent Richard Pring, Wales Interactive Ron Jones, Indie Cluster Ryan Staff, Frontier Sam Browne, NFTS Sam Gage, The Third Floor Sara Elsam, Relentless Shane O’ Brien, GameSparks Simon Vickers, Foundry 42 Stephen Caruana, Pixie Software Stephanie Bazeley, Team Junkfish Steven Verbeek, Crazy Monkey Stuart Tait, Ubisoft Reflections Thomas Reisenegger, ICO Partners Tom Chambers, Reflections Tom Roberts, Relentless Software Tony Zhou, Ubisoft Singapore Tyson Butler-Boschma, ToyBox Games Studio Victor Gaza, Guerrilla Games Amsterdam Waiyin Lau, Splash Damage Yan Lin, Ubisoft Singapore