Q and A: Sam Carlisle, Director Of External Relations At Microsoft Xbox, Discusses External Development And How The Real-Time Engine Is Being Used Outside Of Gaming | Gamesforum

Q and A: Sam Carlisle, Director Of External Relations At Microsoft Xbox, Discusses External Development And How The Real-Time Engine Is Being Used Outside Of Gaming

The XDS Sessions are a must see part of the Gamesforum Fringe. Taking place on the morning of the 25th January, the sessions will feature leading names from the biggest companies in the games industry discussing the best ways to approach the essential – but often challenging – task of managing external development processes.

Sam Carlisle, Director of External Partner Relations at Microsoft Xbox, will be joining us for the XDS Sessions. His talk will focus on how the real-time engine is being used outside of the world of gaming – whether in medicine, in journalism or even in Neill Blomkamp’s forthcoming film – and what this means for the industry.

But what else can you expect from the session? And what generally are the big challenges and opportunities in the external development space? We caught up with Sam over email to find out.

Gamesforum: What does your role entail?

Sam Carlisle: I work in a group that sits in a central position inside Xbox where we support our studios with their external partners (and occasionally our AR teams).

This includes sourcing, on-boarding and negotiating with new suppliers, as well as taking a strategic look at external development market all up to learn how we can better adapt to challenges and take advantage of future opportunities

Gamesforum: Your career has been focused on resolving the challenges associated with external development within a number of different companies. How does external development differ from internal development?

Carlisle: It’s a big question, one which we’ll forever be examining to improve how we work!

I’d say at the core, the lack of onsite – in person interaction with the team and the technical/artistic growth of the project, means that relationship management takes on a much greater significance.

Organisationally, a high level of clarity and understanding with your partners quickly becomes vital as well as ensuring your internal team is ready and understands their role in the process. This is why we find the best external managers tend to be well organised diplomats.

A number of development studios from a range of different backgrounds have told us that external partners are becoming more important to their development processes.

Gamesforum: Why do you think that’s the case and is there anything in particular driving it?

Carlisle: The two biggest factors are the ability to scale and the sourcing of missing skills from the internal team. Fact is games are bigger, more complex and higher quality than ever before. Budgets are also a driver, but less so than you’d think. Any studio making cost their number one criteria for choosing a partner is likely to be storing up problems ahead.

Gamesforum: Following on from that question, what do you think are the benefits of working with external development partners?

Carlisle: Outside of the factors above (scale, skills and budget) there are many other benefits. However, a standout one is risk management. These external teams are setup to expand and contract to your business needs. In the long term this protects the core internal teams by allowing them to scale to take advantage of opportunities while acting as a buffer when there is a need to contract.

Gamesforum: And, on the other side of the equation, what are the major challenges of working with external development partners? What can companies do to overcome them?

Carlisle: This a topic without end – in fact we devote whole summits to it ????.

Team culture, artistic or technical disciplines and sheer scale often form the foundation to most challenges. Organisation and communication are fundamental to overcoming them. There is no right way or silver bullet solution. However, there are a range of processes and tools that can help studios manage them appropriately. You need to find the ones that work for your studio culture and your projects unique requirements.


It’s worth bearing in mind that often due to differences in times zones, mistakes can quickly get expensive to correct. Clear, open and honest communication between external partners and the dev team will help to prevent these situations (which will happen) from becoming damaging.

I would advise any studio embarking external development not to use it as just a pressure release valve, but to bake into your production plan form day one. Take time on your due diligence to find the right team and whenever possible, spend time onsite at your partners studio.

Gamesforum: Your talk at Gamesforum is about how the rest of the world outside of games is waking up to the potential of the real time engine. What examples are there of companies outside games using development engines and why are they doing this?

Carlisle: The most obviously high profile area right now is VR/AR. Realtime tech is driving a lot of the most innovative work in this space. From medicine to journalism, from marketing to sports; interaction in 3D is where the games industry lives. In order to deliver their solutions the Commercial Enterprise market finds itself having to understand and implement the skills we’ve been developing for over 30 years.

As the rest of the world wakes up to this potential, what does it mean for the games industry as a whole? Is this a boon or could it prove problematic for pure developers in the longer term?

The answer is both, and resources is going to be a major battleground. There’s plenty to be gained, but much will depend on the games industry’s approach. Whether we embrace it or push back. I firmly believe it should be the former. However, the increased competition from outside games is going to expose any weaknesses our industry has in work life balance, environment and talent retention.

Gamesforum: Finally, 2018 is just around the corner. Do you have any predictions for what you think will happen in the next year in the external development space

It’ll keep growing in order to keep pace with the games industries growth. Expect to see deeper integration of teams with external partners taking on larger slices of the development process. In other words more co-development rather than the traditional ‘throw it over the wall’ approach. As the market matures we’ll also see more consolidation among service providers with the number of acquisitions picking up speed.

Personally, my hope is that the Indie scene will begin to embrace external development. Approached in the right way it has the potential to bolster their creativity, quality and scope. To do this we need to change the perception of external development from outsourcing to what it should be – collaboration.

Sam will be speaking as part of the XDS Sessions at Gamesforum London on the 25th January. If you’d like to hear from him – as well as our other amazing XDS speakers – sign up for a pass here.

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19th April 2018