Game Republic

Stephen Hey interview

This profile forms part of a series of interviews produced as part of Game Republic’s 20th Anniversary celebrations supported by our Official Partners Barclays, Escape Technology and Red Kite Games.

Stephen Hey is Head of Publishing for Radical Forge. He has been a key part of the development of games networks in the North West including Gameopolis and has been a big supporter of collaboration since the 2000s. Stephen has also supported educators across the region, working with colleges from the North East to West Yorkshire. With an impressive track record from launching a Worms demo in The Times, Stephen’s work has taken him around the World, but now his work is more focused on the region and developing talent for the area and the industry.

What is great about working in the games industry?

It continually changes, reinvents, and evolves, this is a challenge, but also, as an industry, it means you can never stand still. Experience is necessary but not essential, and as tools like Unreal Editor for Fortnite become available, it enables even more people to create games, and it becomes even more exciting. In fact, I love the industry and the games it makes now, even more than I did 30 years ago when I started in it. And, although we have a way to go, it is a more inclusive, accessible and accepting place to be.

What words of advice do you have for people starting out in the games sector?

It’s hard to get in, but so is any creative sector. So be resilient and persevere. But be confident in what you are capable of and in what you bring; your new perspectives could create something unique. Questioning everything and everyone, we all have opinions, and that life experience is essential, but also is trying something new, experimenting with genres, art styles, and game design conventions.

I’m currently working on Unseen Galaxy – a non-profit publisher with a long-term aim of expanding knowledge about the careers available in games and getting people to think about these when they are in school.

What work have you been doing in the region to support the games industry?

Radical Forge is very integrated into the development community in Yorkshire, Teesside and the rest of the North. CEO Bruce Slater co-runs GameBridge with Cardboard Sword’s Olly Bennet, and the company is very supportive of all the education and community objectives that the other directors and team members are part of. There is barely a week goes by without the Radical Forge team presenting at events, doing portfolio reviews for students or announcing a community meet-up in Middlesbrough. All sorts of things are going on, and the company actively encourages this.

I’ve been involved in cultivating a games network in the region since the 2000’s when the ‘M62 Games Network’ was born with the idea of uniting games companies from Liverpool to Hull, (which was a great idea until the regional funding vanished). I am still actively involved in Gameopolis, Manchester’s game hub organisation which regularly collaborates with Game Republic on talks and events like the recent Climb23 panel in Leeds. I have been part of the Gameopolis organisation for a few years now, organising and hosting events alongside the rest of the team. These events help to bring the industry together and we have grand plans for 2023.

I have been involved in education and training in the region for over a decade, from holding workshops for indie developers at Teesside University to working with colleges and schools in Sunderland and Wakefield on games-based courses and ‘games weeks’. I have also delivered Princes Trust courses across the region, and I’m currently working on Unseen Galaxy – a non-profit publisher with a long-term aim of expanding knowledge about the careers available in games and getting people to think about these when they are in school.

The region seems to breed this community spirit, and I know that Game Republic is a big part of the ‘glue’ that holds this together and drives it to succeed.

What has been a highlight of your career/work so far for the industry?

I’ve had loads and feel it’s an absolute privilege to write that. From launching a Worms demo campaign in The Times (“send us a stamped addressed envelope and we’ll send you a disk”) for Ocean to helping design and deploy the Nintendo DS campaign throughout Europe when I was at creative agency Head First. It’s taken me around the world, introduced me to various people and a few celebs, and made some beautiful lifelong friendships; plus, I met my incredible wife through my work.

In more recent years, it is the educational stuff I have got a kick out of and seeing people I’ve worked with, some with no formal games qualifications, break into the industry. This is my professional ‘side calling’ now (my main one being my job), and I’d like to see more people from economically sparse areas get into this beautiful industry.

The most recent highlight was getting a role at Radical Forge. It’s an extraordinary company, it sounds corny as heck, but the focus isn’t even on the people at Radical Forge; it’s on the individual – maybe I’m being pedantic with the old semantics, but it means a great deal to the way everyone is treated at the company, and this comes from the top.

What influence do you think your company and similar companies can have on the sector?

I love the energy brought to the sector by companies like Radical Forge, and this compliments the more mature companies like Revolution Software, Just Add Water and Creative Assembly, creating a vibrant and collaborative industry. Creating opportunity is built into Radical Forge’s DNA, and whilst we have team members spread around the UK and beyond, we feel it’s important to nurture talent in the region, create new jobs with decent salaries and enrich the culture of the places we work in.

With other companies, particularly in Teeside like Tanglewood, Behaviour Interactive UK, and Sock Monkey, we are cultivating a hub of talent that will last, like the pools of talent that erupted around Leamington Spa, Dundee and Reading in the ’80s and ’90s. This is important because it means trans-generational wealth and social mobility in an economically disadvantaged region.

Stephen Hey being interviewed
Stephen Hey sharing insights from his work at Radical Forge

What do you think of the role of Game Republic?

Game Republic is a catalyst. Up close, at GaMaYo, or a webinar on Steam best practices or when Jamie introduces an opportunity to a studio, these seem like tremendous but small things. But step back and look at the bigger picture. You can see that without these small (and more significant initiatives), the region would be less collaborative, less informed, less connected and ultimately, less successful. So thank you to Jamie, everyone else involved and all those that went before in setting the organisation up.

There is a tradition of collaboration in the region, which isn’t present everywhere where games are made.

Why is the region a good place to do business?

There is a tradition of collaboration in the region, which isn’t present everywhere where games are made. I’ve seen it in places like Finland, particularly in the mobile world, but in the UK, at least, it’s pretty unique. And whilst this would happen anyway, Game Republic’s events, openness and network help this cooperation breed and spread.

From a pipeline viewpoint, we have some great games courses from colleges in Middlesbrough, Wakefield, Hartlepool and Sunderland and universities like Leeds and Middlesbrough. And whilst it’s not always easy for Indie companies to take on new entrants, there are opportunities up here which means that far fewer people have to move elsewhere. Add to this the fact that the region covers some of the most dramatic landscapes, chocolate box villages, and thriving cities in the country (but with a much more affordable cost of living than ‘down South’), and you get a very compelling argument for making games in the North.

What projects are coming up?

Radical Forge is working with Private Division, which has funded our new IP, which we are very excited about, and we’ll be revealing that to the world soon. We continue expanding and are looking to add new mid to seniors to the team in various roles as our ambitions broaden. And we have stepped up our involvement in the pipeline and are working more with colleges and universities across the North.

Personally, I am launching the next iteration of the education project Unseen Galaxy – watch this space as that’s exciting and I’ll be asking for help from developers in the region soon!

Whilst non of the above will transform the region, they are all pieces of the puzzle that contribute to the creative, resilient, luminescent game development scene we have in the North.