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Can Anyone Build A Hit Video Game?

THESE days, you don't need a huge team and a massive budget to develop a hit video game anyone can do it for virtually nothing from their bedroom. True? Well, not quite but as Arran Langmead told me when I visited the tiny Southampton flat which doubles as his games studio, the playing field has certainly been levelled.

We've decided to follow Arran's progress for BBC Tech Tent to see what it takes to build a game and reach a global audience. He has reached a crucial stage in the development of Bears Can't Drift, a kart-racing game which he hopes to launch for both the Sony Playstation Network and the Steam games store over the next couple of months.

He has been working on it on and off for a couple of years, and very intensely for the last nine months. The game looks very sophisticated despite the fact that he lacks one key skill that we are often told is essential if you want to make it in the games industry."I'm not a coder by trade," he told me.

Arran has a degree in computer games and lectures in the subject at Solent University, but he has never been confident about programming. He did work with a programmer on an early version of the game but when money ran out, he had to decide whether he could carry on.

Then he decided to try Unreal Engine 4, a sophisticated software platform for games development. It gives users a visual scripting language, which to my untrained eye looked like a souped-up version of the children's coding tool Scratch."I'm kind of cheating," he says."But it's like standing on the shoulders of giants." The platform gives you templates and then you start building your own worlds.

Unreal Engine used to cost huge sums to license, but it is now free for smaller developers. Its new business model involves taking 5 percent of the revenue from games built with it. And it even hands out grants to some developers Arran Langmead got a fat cheque with no conditions attached.

So that is how the playing field is levelled. Arran still needs to bring his vision, his artistic sensibility, and his sheer ambition to this project but he is using the same tools as the industry giants. There is however one difference which could mean Bears Don't Drift will sink without trace when he starts asking people to pay for it later this year."I can build the game, but I can't get the press," he says.

With so many games fighting for attention, the big marketing budgets of the major players become all the more important. Arran is hoping that he can attract the attention of celebrities who can now make or break a title just by playing it. His game will retail for around [euro]oAu10, around a quarter of what a major console title would cost. He reckons he needs to sell 10,000 or so to call it a success and pay for the thousands of hours of work he has put into it.

Whatever happens, he has no regrets about immersing himself in building Bears Don't Drift."It's the nearest thing you'll get to a God complex," he told me as I was leaving."Everything that happens in that world is your creation."

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Aug 24, 2015
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