We caught up with former King Alfred’s pupil and award winning streamer Ian Higton at Wantage Comicon on 1 June 2019. Ian has been in the gaming industry for over 9 years.
We asked for his opinion on the evolution of games, things people might not expect about the industry, and his thoughts on video games as a social platform. He also gave us some insight into his game-life balance and whether there is such thing as too much video gaming.
1. When did you first get interested in gaming? What got you hooked?
I’ve been gaming since the age of 9 when my mum bought me my first ever computer, a ZX Spectrum. Back then, home computer gaming was relatively new and as a young child, I found this new form of entertainment so exciting. My favourite game at the time was called Dizzy and I thought was amazing because playing it was like being in control of your very own cartoon. I loved cartoons on the TV, but they were passive experiences, with video games I was always the lead character in my own, personal adventures.
2. What are your memories of being at King Alfred’s?
I attended King Alfred’s West site and then King Alfred’s Sixth Form. I have fond memories of my time there and I met a lot of my closest friends there. I do remember feeling like a bit of an outsider at times though. Being into video games, sci-fi and Japanese anime and manga wasn’t as accepted as it is nowadays and as such there were not many people around who shared my passions. I’m pretty sure a lot of people thought I was a bit of a weirdo! That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to support the Wantage Comicon. I would have loved to have had something like that in town when I was growing up and I think it’s wonderful that this kind of hobby is now accepted, enjoyed and celebrated by people of all ages.
3. Do you have your dream job? How did you get to work for Eurogamer?
I do think I have my dream job and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to turn my hobby into a career! I studied a variety of media studies courses, starting in KAs Sixth Form and then into higher education before I landed myself a job as a Floor Manager for the shopping TV channel Gemporia (which at that time was called Snatch It TV).
While there I worked my way up through the ranks to become a Vision Mixer/Studio Director and in my spare time, I would make YouTube videos about gaming. On the strength of those, a TV producer that I met at Snatch It invited me to produce weekly video reviews for a start-up entertainment news show on UK Freeview TV.
Thanks to that work I was able to attend many press events for upcoming games and even self-funded two trips to the famous games expo, E3 in Los Angeles.
During that time, I made sure to network with as many games industry folk as possible and, thanks to a good friend that I made in that period, I was introduced to the editor of Eurogamer who was looking to re-launch the website’s YouTube channel.
It took a long time to get where I am now, but as I’ve been with the company for almost 8 years now, it just goes to show that hard work and perseverance can indeed pay off!
4. Is it harder than it looks just having fun playing games? Is it hard being on camera? If something goes wrong technically is it hard to keep the flow of chat going?
If I’m playing a game I love then it’s not hard at all – the problems come when I have to play a game I don’t love, but thankfully part of my job is being a critic so I’m able to explain why I’m not having fun. Sometimes playing bad games is brilliant though, because it can lead to hilarious bugs or glitches that have me in stitches! Being on the camera used to be very hard for me as I trained up as a technical operator – someone who is normally behind the scenes.
As with all things though, you do them enough and you get used to them. It can be a challenge keeping the pace going on a live stream if there is a technical issue, especially if you then see the number of viewers dropping off, but as long as you don’t panic, keep a cool head and stay positive while you try to fix things, it’s not too hard to keep the chat going. I tend to make light of the situation and ask for questions or read comments as I work out a fix.
5. What’s the most stressful thing you’ve ever had to cope with on camera?
Technical difficulties are always stressful, and I have them all the time! One that sticks with me though was the launch of Grand Theft Auto V. I went live on a stream to play the game on the day of launch, but the disk was broken and the game wouldn’t load. There were about 1000 people watching me fluster around trying to fix it! In the end, I had to cancel the stream, run two miles to the nearest game shop and buy a new copy before running back to set up another stream!
6. Many parents today worry about their kids gaming too much. What are your thoughts about this?
I played a lot of games when I was a kid, probably more than most other kids my age, but I did balance it out with plenty of outdoor activities with friends as well. Nowadays with the internet, gaming is a lot more social than it was when I was young and these days it’s just as much of a way to hang out with your friends as going to the park would have been when I was younger.
In fact, I still game daily and I regularly use online games to socialise with old friends who live long distances from me. As long as there are some restrictions put in place as to how many hours a child can play and as long as it’s not distracting them from schoolwork or stopping them from socialising or doing dome physical activities, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about
7. How are games different now from when you were a kid?
Modern games are massively different from the ones I played as a kid. Games like Dizzy probably seem prehistoric to the current generation of young gamers! Obviously, graphics have improved as computing power has increased and (thankfully) you don’t have to load games from tape anymore.
I think the biggest change to gaming came with advancements with the internet though. Online multiplayer gaming was a huge game changer, as was the ability to purchase and download games online. Back in my day, if a local store didn’t stock a game you wanted, you had to order it from a mail order company, pay with it via a posted cheque and then wait 24 days for the game to arrive. You had to have a lot of patience as a gamer in the 80s!
8. What does it take to earn a living from gaming? Any advice to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
With modern video content platforms like Twitch and YouTube it’s technically possible for anyone to earn a living from gaming. These platforms give content creators a slice of the advertising revenue so large channels with a lot of views can make quite a lot of money.
But, and this is a big but, there is an incredible amount of competition on these platforms and I often compare success at gaming to becoming famous in a band. It takes time, practice and a lot of passion but also a hefty amount of luck.
If you wanted to get into being a YouTuber or a streamer, I’d say keep at it, don’t give up it takes years to build up a good following and probably even longer than that to make enough money to live off. Pick games to play that you are passionate about, it’s much easier to relax on camera if you’re having a good time and more people will watch you if you seem confident with what you’re doing!
For anyone interested in Games Journalism as a career, journalism courses are a good start but in the modern world I’d say learning how to edit videos is a must too. Most gaming websites also put out regular video content and knowing how to do turn your words into a decent video would be a massive bonus to an employer.