Ghostlight Games's Community Manager, PR person, and anime fan Ross Brierley explains how he escaped one bad job to work in video games in this week's Justin Lab Report.
Welcome to the 7th Justin Lab Report, where there’s nothing super crazy going on, it’s just a one on one chat that hopefully involves good people.
Let’s get on with it. This week’s guest works in video games, and has for a long time in the U.K. For Ross Brierley though, his opportunity with JRPG publisher Ghostlight Games came when he took one look at an advertisement. He immediately jumped at the chance to not do stationery stuff anymore. So he talks about that, challenges of his role, and anime in the U.K.

Ross Brierley

Justin: Before you started working at Ghostlight Games, when you were growing up what got you interested in video gaming?

Ross Brierley: I got my first console when I was about 8 and it was the original NES. I kind of fell in love with it pretty much straightaway. We got the original Mario game, Super Mario Bros 3, and Duck Hunt are the first ones I remember. I just kept playing them, and as I grew up I got more into RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind: Dale.

When we finally brought PlayStation I tried my first JRPG, Final Fantasy 7. I decided from there that, yeah, I kinda like these games *laughs*

So Baldur’s Gate was the first RPG you played?

Certainly first computer game RPG. I’d done some D&D before offline so I had a fair idea of how the rules work and how it went.

I guess FF7 was the game that made you say, “You know what? RPGs are really cool, huh?”

It’s certainly gotten me into the Japanese side. It was different, it’s a real difference between, or there used to be, a sort of traditional RPG with the combat system is part of the storytelling as opposed to the more western stuff. So it was showing me a different sort of RPG, and to be honest, I love them both equally. *laughs*

What made you decide you wanted to join the video game industry?

I saw an advert in the local paper. I was working in my parents’ company, which was a stationery company, and I hope I’m not spoiling any illusions here — stationery is dead boring.

*laughs*

Sorry to disappoint you all, it is. The most exciting thing that ever happened was our family sold Acme products. Unfortunately, they don’t work like they do in the cartoons.

So anyway while I was recovering from that massive head trauma caused by these experiments–

“Recovering?”

*laughs* I saw a advert in the local paper for games testing position at Laughing Jackal and Ghostlight Games. That would be about 10 years from now so I’ve been there ever since.

Yeah that’s been like, 2007, 2008?

I joined January 2007, but this is probably the time I saw the advert, I can’t remember the exact day. But then there was an interview and then it was a little while before the job started so it was probably about this time 10 years ago when I saw the advert.

Since you’ve been at Ghostlight Games, what do you think has changed from when you started to now?

I mean the biggest thing…digital distribution certainly. I mean when I started we were doing PS2 games. You didn’t sell games online.

…Well, you did but it was by Amazon or game website, etc. But a box was sent out to someone, you didn’t download console games, and that’s, in many ways, while that’s meant less games get boxed editions these days, on the other hand it’s much easier to release games that you wouldn’t be able to sell enough of to justify a physical print run, a minimum print order, and the lower your print run is, the more it costs. So it’s disappointing in some ways, as everyone likes getting something physical. But on the other hand, there’s plenty of stuff that just wouldn’t be released without digital sales.

So I guess Steam has been the biggest thing that has changed the video game industry.

It’s been a pretty massive change for us, moving to Steam, we can sell games worldwide than just Europe. And once the game’s up there you don’t have to worry about keeping it in print. Oddly enough retailers will justify doing a reprint, it’s just there, it’s available to people, and you sometimes need to update it when it starts having problems with new systems. But yeah it’s just there and kind of keep selling.

What’s the best and most challenging parts of your job? Because you’ve doing a lot of things, correct?

Yes. I started out as a tester and…it must have been about 5 or 6 years ago, we basically been through pretty much everyone in the office, and I was called into my boss’s room. “Would you like to handle PR and Community Management? We’ve basically tried pretty much everyone else.” I thought about it, I wasn’t exactly keen. I think he said it like, “Do you want to try it for a month? A sale goes, and if you want to keep doing it, then we’ll…”

“Ok, I’ll do it for a month!”

*laughs*

I’ve been doing it ever since. To be honest, the bigger challenge for me I found is having the confidence to sort of go and talk to people and email people because I’m naturally reluctant to initiate conversations. I’ve always been a bit quiet, shy — I might not sound it but *laughs* — I’ve always had this kind of happen. I always struggle to initiate conversations. Which, when you’re doing PR and Community Management it’s a bit of a thing! So this has been very good for me. It’s kind of forced me out of that comfort zone, and made me start wanting to talk to people and sort of shouting things rather than just me being content to learn online.

And they say introverts can’t run the world huh? Look at this, look at us!

*laughs*

What does a typical day at Ghostlight Games look for you?

It really varies. Obviously, in the week leading up to release or around release I’m pretty much concentrating on PR: keeping the press updated, giving out review codes, and as Community Manager, trying to build some excitement for the game.

On the other hand if we just started work on the new game like we had recently, I’m mainly focusing on testing it at the moment. There’s still a little bit left over for Mugen Souls Z’s PR side, and I’m still posting about it on Twitter and asking questions. But I’ve sort of started to moving over to more testing the next game, and then however long it is until the beta’s ready I’ll be organizing a closed beta’s. So I have a pretty varied job to be honest. There’s not that many of us so everyone’s got multiple hats.

How many is at Ghostlight?

I think there’s like…7 of us?

Oh man.

Yeah. So we all sort of chip in with multiple areas. I mean I haven’t had to do it in a while because we haven’t had to release many physical games, but back when we were doing PS games, Trails of The Sky is actually a really good example of this, in that I saw it posted online, and sort of said, “I want to play this.” So we got an evaluation copy, I did the evaluation — I then borrowed for work a PSP and took it home and finish the game in my own time. I then did a lot of the testing on it. Did the PR and Community Management for it. And then when we released the game, I was down in the warehouse helping to ship it out–

*laughs*

So you get to do lots of different things.

From playing it to actually shipping it out to everybody. *laughs*

Yeah if you ordered it directly from our shop I probably helped package it up for you. *laughs*

What games outside of Ghostlight Games stuff have you been playing this year?

I’ve been playing Trails of Cold Steel. We released the first Trails game but all the others have been through other people, but I love the series, I love the storytelling, I love the worldbuilding, it’s just…really, really one of my favorite series.

I just started Dragon Quest VII. I’ve played a couple of Dragon Quest games before, but never played VII, and so far I’m really enjoying it. Outside of RPGs I’ve playing a lot of Rocket League with my brother, and I’ve been dragged back into my sort of on-off addiction with Football Manager, which I’ve been playing off and on since 1993.

Is this the same Football Manager or just different iterations?

They do a new one each year. It started out as Championship Manager, and then switched publishers so they lost the rights to the name, but basically the whole community went over with the devs, so it’s kind of the same thing.

Mugen Souls Z

How did you discover anime when you were growing up?

It was at university, where I was a member of the University of Birmingham Science Fiction & Fantasy Society. A few of the members were really into anime. I went to my mate’s house one evening, had a few beers, and then he showed me the first episode of Samurai Champloo. “I, I quite like this! This looks cool!”

So I got back home afterwards and started looking up — the first two series I got into was Samurai Champloo and Full Metal Alchemist. I was like, “Yeah, I really like this!” I’ve always been into Sci-Fi and Fantasy so another source of Sci-Fi and Fantasy sort of. While my taste has grown a bit more varied since then it’s still a bit more what I’m really into.

How is the market where you’re at? You see it in stores, can you stream enough anime, etc?

Well, we have had a few box and electronic and CD places closing down. There’s probably less stores that stock anime compared to when they used to be. You got HMV still, and sort of specialist video and DVD stores, but the (Not sure – Ed. Note) have closed down a few others in that area so there’s probably less stores carrying it 10, 15 years ago. I think that’s a general retail problem rather than something specific to anime.

We got Manga (Entertainment), which still do quite a bit. There’s All The Anime, a lot of collector’s editions, though they do cheaper box sets afterwards. And MVM, they’ve done the Fate series. From the outside they seem to be doing reasonably well.

As for streaming, it’s improved a lot as FUNimation finally started streaming in the UK. Before, generally FUNimation picked up worldwide rights, or English language rights. It didn’t get streamed over here. But it was early this year, they started their own UK streaming website, so we tend to get the stuff with worldwide rights to. There’s Crunchyroll, and while the catalog isn’t quite as large as it is in the states, it’s still pretty decent.

What are your thoughts on Crunchyroll and FUNimation getting married, essentially?

As a user it sounds quite convenient because as it stands I’ve got subscriptions to both. It looks like I’ll be able to get rid of a subscription to one. We’ll see what kind of cross pollination of titles is like. From an industry standpoint, it probably makes it quite hard for anyone else to really compete with them because most stuff goes to one of the two companies of streaming rights. There’s obviously still room for physical releases as well. But I think they’re going to end up with most stuff that isn’t on Netflix, Amazon, etc.

What anime’s caught your attention this season?

I’ve quite enjoyed Berserk. It’s not the greatest adaptation of the manga but I’ve still quite enjoyed it. Alderamin of the Sky…again it’s kind of related to my interest in Fantasy but it’s been quite a fancy military series. Characters have been fairly fun and the overall plot has been engaging. 91 Days, which isn’t quite the Baccano! clone I expected it to be, but it’s turned into something a bit darker. Also enjoying Food Wars, more for how utterly ridiculous sort of basically shounen fighting anime, except they’re cooking instead of fighting. It takes all the clichés and applies them to cooking. Suddenly that makes it ridiculously funny at the same time. And Arslan, which I’ve really enjoyed, and I just started watching the first episode of The Galactic Railways on FUNimation.