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We sat down with Game Dev Heroes award winner Des Gayle, Founder of Altered Gene, to hear all about his journey in games, his insight on the challenges of setting up a games business, and why collaboration is key moving forward.



Elaine Dowman: Hi, I'm Elaine Dowman. I'm from the Games and Esports team at Barclays, and I'm delighted today to be joined by Des Gayle. Hi Des!

Des Gayle: Hello!

Elaine: Before I start anything, congratulations on being nominated for a Game Dev Hero award this year, that's exciting.

Des: Yeah, it's a very, very, very nice surprise. It's one of those things where maybe it's a British thing, but like, I get very uncomfortable when other people say nice things about me.

Elaine: Get ready for the intro I'm about to give you.

Des: Oh no.

Elaine: Look, Des, you've got over 20 years' experience in the industry. You obviously started at a very, very young age. 

You've worked on the launch of the XBOX. You've worked at EA, Crytek, Square Enix. You founded Altered Gene. You're also a member of the UKIE board. You're a founding member of POC In Play, an ambassador for Special Effect. What are you not doing, or what have you not done?

It's really difficult to know where to start, but I'm going to actually start 

back with Life Is Strange. So, you worked on the first Life Is Strange, I think it was back in 2015? Obviously a huge game, a breakout in the fact that it's showcasing LGBTQ+ themes and representation. 

What was your favourite kind of part about working on Life is Strange?

Des: It was kind of like a modern point-and-click adventure. So, you've got the accessibility of point and click, but you've got the, I say, the currentness of the 3D and the semi-fixed camera, which enabled us to push the visuals. On top of that, the art style, and the aesthetic was lovely too, right? 

I mean, I'll tell you one thing I didn't like the fact it was episodic, like that was a lot of work. And for anyone watching, I recommend not making episodic games. But other than that, yeah, it was great to work on.

How did you go from working within publishers and then going out and setting up your own games business?

Des: When you work in video games, people who don't know video games are just like, 'Oh, so you work in tech, right? So, you can make an app or a website and all sorts of stuff like that?’ So, I was kind of like, 'No, no, no, I don't do any of that stuff.' 

We made a couple of apps that were quite cool. Opportunistic, I guess, but from both sides. So, we had one brand come to us and say, 'Okay, like we need this tabletop game for a conference,' and we were like, 'Okay, yeah, sure, sure.' And they had the design and the brief and everything, so we just had to build it, so we were like, we can scope! So that was fun.

And then the last five years or so, we just kind of been like, heykind of want to get back to making our own games again. So we're focusing on that now. It was kind of semi-organic, semi-forced. I still wanted to stay with that video game. So I was like, well, come on, give it a go myself now.

What was the biggest challenge in setting up your own businessin this space, do you think?

Des: I remember going to my bank at the time, and they just didn't get it. They asked me loads of questions related to brick-and-mortar stuff. I'm like, yeah, I need a laptop and an internet connection. Like, I'm not going to rent an office, that's going to be a waste of money for me. The lack of education on the funding side was a difficult hurdle to get over.

Having gone from working for other games businesses and setting up your own. Is there any advice that you would give to anyone who's interested in doing that? Whether they're coming from publishers and want to go out on their own or on the other extreme, someone coming out of uni and getting started out. 

Des: The reason why Altered Gene is still around, is just through collaboration and speaking to peers and be like, 'Hey, like, I've got this problem in my business. Like, have you experienced this before?' and the other person is like, 'Yeah, it happened to us. This is how we fixed it, and everything is fine now.’ Or, 'Oh, we're actually going through this right now.' And it's great, so now you could split that problem between two heads rather than one.

From the student side, right now, in the year that is 2021, there are too many video games and too many people making video games. It's highly competitive. And obviously, the quality is on different levels. But, what I would say is... get a job first. And learn what you don't know on somebody else's dime.

Running your own company is great. Most of the time, but some of the time, it's not. And you need to be very comfortable that you love what it is that you're doing before you go make it like your bread and butter.


You're a founding member of POC In Play. An organisation built to increase representation and visibility for people of colour in the video games industry. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and what you're doing there?

Des: It's really just about trying to have a safe space for people to come and sort of talk about their issues because, you might be the only person that looks like you, at a company, so you can't really talk to anyone at the company about that. 

So, it's nice to have that collective space, to be like, what's going on here, what do you think?

How can businesses build more diverse teams to kind of represent their audiences today?

Des: If you've realised there is a problem with your company. Or, what's more likely happened, someone else has told you there's a problem with your company; don't just hire a D&I Consultant to go and try to sort the problem out. You go sort it out.

So, if you need more gender diversity, you as the CEO should go to these different groups that are around, introduce yourself and try and tell people you know what you're looking for. 

You're also an ambassador at the amazing charity Special Effect. How did you get involved in that, and why?

Des: So, Special Effect, they help people with physical disabilities who can't use traditional controllers and other input methods to access video games and technology. Video games could be such great places to get lost and have fun in. It was just super sad to think that people, who willingly would want to play these games, but they just couldn't access them just because of the interface. So, with Special Effect, by dealing with this hurdle like it is great.

Is your spare time devoted to your passion, which is clearly games, right?

Des: Absolutely. And I just, as I mentioned selfishly, I just want to play cool games, right? 

There's so many great stories out there waiting to be told, so many fun game mechanics just waiting to be explored. You know, making video games is fun. But, it's not easy. And if there's anything I can do to speak to developers a couple of years behind just to say, 'Hey, listen, I went down that road, don't go down there, like, seriously, take this path, it'll be much easier for you.' Because knowledge should be free. And talking to people is just simple.

Elaine: Brilliant, thank you Des.

Des: Thanks for having me!

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