Role: Studio Head of Lift London
Lives: Hampstead, London
Family: Wife and three children – one son and two daughters
Hobbies: BAFTA committee member and chair of Breakthrough Brits, movies (Japanese animation and Disney), music (I use an app to make music while I sit on the Tube)
What were your previous jobs?
Before Lift, I was the Studio Director at a games company called Rare. I worked on Kinect Sports, created Xbox avatars and two of the launch games for Xbox 360 – Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo. My first game was Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64. Before that I was selling swimming pools in South Wales. I left school when I was 16. I wanted to go to art college and make animated films but it didn’t work out like that because my grades weren’t that great. In the early 1990s I ended up working at a swimming pool company in South Wales. I had this love of videogames and thought, “why don’t I try and do that”; so I wrote out three videogame ideas and sent them off to different game companies. Rare, who had just released Donkey Kong Country, offered me an interview. I went in there and told them their game had some issues and how they could make it better. Obviously I said the right stuff, as they hired me as a game designer!
Lift London’s offices
Tell us about your current role
Lift is focused on innovating across Windows apps, devices and services, with a view to attracting a wider audience in particular millennials and Generation Z (eight to 15 year olds). There are three key trends we care about. First, 3D computing is going to be real, we just don’t know when. Secondly, changing the way we work. Everyone under 30 has grown up with videogames and online interaction and they expect work to be like that but most offices & tools today are based on a 60 to 70-year-old design. The workforce expects very different things from the workplace and the workplace is the one that has to change. The third trend is around “creativity is the new productivity”. The nature of work is changing, as artificial intelligence and machine learning improve. The need to be more creative in work will increase, but then you will also have more time outside of work and want to be more creative in general. Lift is on the sharp point of delivering products. We have to make something that hundreds of millions of people will love.
What are your aims?
You reach a point where you realise that everything you do is about helping people become better. That’s how I run the studio and the team. We have an empowering culture here that allows people to do their best work. I think, “here’s the mission, what are the roles that I need to complete that mission and then who are the right people to fill those roles”.
Lift London’s offices
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Having enough time. I don’t look at it as work, though. I’m one of the luckiest people alive. I’ve got the best job at Microsoft, I get to work with great people, I get to innovate, I’m in London. I love every second of it.
What’s the best part of your job?
The people who I interact with. We had some new interns start recently and they came in with such confidence. They come into meetings and you hear their great ideas and see their energy, and it gives you energy when you get to be around people like that. Microsoft is full of great people but we don’t shout about it as much as we do about our products, but it’s such an amazing place. To come and work with these people every day is brilliant.
What are you most proud of?
The first thing I did, and where we are today. Going from making swimming pools to making Diddy Kong Racing with no knowledge or concept of how to do it and being given the freedom to make mistakes, that was great. It was the biggest game in the world and sold five million copies. But I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on things, because that’s the fun of our job, it’s all about change and what comes next.
What inspires you?
Being around people who have passion, and it doesn’t matter what that passion is about. For example, I love cooking. I’m not good at cooking but I love to watch chefs, so we have the cooking channel on all day here in the studio, because it’s great to see people doing something creative.
What’s your favourite Microsoft product?
Xbox. It’s been such a major part of my life. All the way from Xbox 360 to Xbox One, I’ve played a role across many different products and experiences.
What was the first bit of tech that you were excited about?
The ColecoVision in 1980/81. It had the original Donkey Kong on it. I dreamed about having one as a kid and never did. I finally bought one in my early 30s and played some games, and I thought “this isn’t very good, is it?!”. Manic Miner was the biggest inspiration for me. That was the game I played more than anything else. I used to get graph paper and design levels for it, and that’s what set me on the path to gaming.
What’s the future of tech?
It’s an intriguing time, with 3D computing & AI. My view is that everything that’s going to have an impact going forward has some connection to gaming. Artificial Intelligence has been driven by gaming over the past 20 years. It’s the same with virtual reality (VR) – everyone is trying to figure out what you do in VR; well, you build worlds; who has been building worlds for the past 20 years? Game developers. Everything in the future has some foundation in what video games have been at the forefront of doing over the past 20/30 years. Everyone under 40 has grown up with games and they don’t think of them as games, it’s just part of what they do. So you can see why it’s having such an amazing impact on work. I’m excited by gaming’s influence on how technology is going to evolve.
Finally, are there any exciting things you’re working on that you can’t talk about?