The gaming industry currently makes £60billion (£38.5billion) a year, far surpassing the music industry and making it even bigger than Hollywood. However, a big industry equals a competitive one, so when University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) postgraduate students Pete Bottomley and Ben Hill first dreamt up the concept for their game, Ether One, they couldn’t have anticipated that less than 12 months after its launch they’d have agreed a deal with Sony to develop the game for its PlayStation 4 console. Now, they have just returned from an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas where they showcased Ether One at the annual PlayStation Experience event and are working with Sony to launch the game on PlayStation 4 this year.
Pete and Ben set up White Paper Games after graduating from UCLan’s MA Game Design Course in 2011. They were supported from the beginning by their lecturer at UCLan, Josh Taylor, who has over 13 years’ experience working as a Lead Artist in the digital games industry.
To help fund the company, Pete took a role working part time as a lecturer in game design at UCLan, while Ben became a course leader in illustration and design at Futureworks in Manchester, a partner organisation of UCLan, alongside studying for a Doctorate of Arts (DA.) The pair also received funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which allowed them to offer an internship to a UCLan student, which helped them to grow the business.
Pete says: “We wanted to offer opportunities to other UCLan students, so we used the money to give a student some real-life experience of working on a game. We’d also already recruited student Oliver John (OJ) Farell, followed by James Burton, who worked on live briefs for White Paper Games through their MA studies, then joined us full time after graduating.”
Another UCLan student, Nathaniel Jorden (NJ) Apostol, came on board at the same time as James to take care of music and audio, and later programmer David Smith joined the team.
“We’re currently looking for someone else to join us too, and we’d like it to be another UCLan student,” Pete adds. “White Paper Games and Ether One wouldn’t exist without Josh, we want to pay that forward and help other UCLan graduates get a head start in the gaming industry.”
With only five people and no real budget, the White Paper Games team began developing their first game, Ether One, a first person adventure and puzzle game which deals with the fragility of the human mind. The player must explore the brain of a dementia patient and retrieve lost memories.
“We used the technical knowledge we learnt on the MA to build the game, and the idea came from our own experiences,” Pete explains. “We wanted to tell a story that we could invest ourselves in, and everyone on the team has had some experience with dementia. Both of my grandparents had dementia, and James’ dad has written academic papers on the subject which meant we benefited from both an academic and personal inputs. Lots of people have said that the game really resonates with them because of its links to mental illness and dementia which is great, it feels good to have produced a game which means something.”
The team also benefited from business tutorials provided by Northern Lights, UCLan’s business support programme, and worked closely with Josh, who produced concept paintings and became art director for the game. Josh was also central in securing the games release.
In March 2014, Ether One was launched. Available through the White Paper Games website and digital distribution website Steam, the game sold well and received popular and critical acclaim from industry-leading reviewers including PC Gamer, Game Revolution, and Joystiq. It scored 82 out of 100 on Metacritic, the leading review platform for the gaming industry, where the average score for 2014 was 73. Then, Pete received an email from Sony.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” Pete says. “A representative from Sony got in touch to say they would like us to redevelop the game for PlayStation 4. They also sent us its Project Morpheus hardware, which hasn’t even been released yet, to help develop and we’ll be working with Sony to develop Ether One for that once it launches. We’ve had so many great opportunities, Sony has sent us to London, California and Las Vegas to showcase the game. It’s such a huge honour that we were chosen.”
Despite only being in its first year of trading, White Paper Games is already making a profit. The team is currently re-creating Ether One as it must be re-built from scratch to be suitable to play on PlayStation 4.
“We’re so excited about what lies ahead for 2015 and our relationship with Sony,” Pete says. “We’re offering as many opportunities as we can to current UCLan students and have enlisted groups to help test the game, which is great because they gain experience and get their name in the credits of the game. We plan to keep expanding the team too and UCLan will be our first port of call for talent.”
Philip Holifield, project manager for UCLan Innovation and Enterprise, said: “From people who are developing games in their bedrooms, to large corporations with multi-million pound budgets, there are so many opportunities in the gaming industry. There couldn’t be a better time to launch a gaming business, digital distribution is bigger than ever meaning games are reaching a greater audience than ever before.
“The White Paper Games team are bright, focused and have worked incredibly hard to come up with an innovative idea and launch it to the market. Game design is a difficult discipline, but approach it correctly and the opportunities are endless.”