From publishing magazines to publishing games, our new Head of Content, David Upchurch, has had a varied career, but consistently found himself drawn back into the world of video games. We get better acquainted as David talks to us about taking on the new publishing role at Genba, what makes a healthy publisher-developer relationship, and the games that have stolen his heart over the years…
Hello David, thanks for talking to us – how are you settling in at Genba?
Very well, thanks. Everybody’s been incredibly warm and welcoming. It’s always nice working with nice people.
You’ve been with us nearly three months now?
That’s right. Almost the end of my probation period. Hopefully I’ll still be here when people read this!
You’ve joined Genba as their Head of Content, a new role. Can you elaborate on what it involves?
Sure! In a nutshell, I’m working with Nick [Craig, Genba COO] to build up a new division to provide a full suite of publishing services for developers. It’ll cover marketing to production support, including localisation, QA and release management. Significantly, we’re also looking to invest in titles too.
So basically, my role entails making contact with games developers, evaluating their games and the services or funding they may require, and working closely with them as they go to market so we can support them every step of the way. I’m always keen to talk to developers with a game in the works, no matter what stage it’s at.
What do you think Genba brings to the table that other similar companies don’t?
A lot of things! Between us, Nick and I both have an extensive background in games development and publishing. Nick was at Codemasters for around 20 years, eventually running their racing studio, and I ran production at Curve Games for a few years. So, we understand games development very well and are sympathetic to the challenges – that’s a wealth of knowledge and experience we can use to support a development partner and help them navigate the hurdles on their way to release.
Of course, Genba is also well placed to provide distribution services and commercial advice alongside the publishing support, so developers sort of get the ‘full package’ which I think is unique.
Genba is also a part of the Azerion Group, which means we have a lot of marketing and unique distribution resources to support our plans. Azerion is well-established in Adtech – they create and distribute innovative digital marketing to millions of people around the world. Most relevantly, they can accurately target gamers relevant to a brand to ensure the most effective reach.
Naturally, we’re looking to use those channels to promote games we work on. As we’re ‘part of the family’, we’ll be able to deliver that coverage far more cost-effectively, so partners get more bang for their buck.
What do you see as important in a publisher’s relationship with a developer?
I always see the publisher/developer relationship a bit like a marriage: both parties have needs and desires from the relationship, and it’s about understanding each other’s perspective and working together to deliver the vision. You have to have honesty, trust and mutual respect. I mean, at the end of the day, we both want the same thing: to create an amazing experience that’s loved by gamers the world over.
Ultimately, we want developers to enjoy working with us so much that they want to work with us again on their next game, and the one after that, and so on.
Tell us about your time at Curve Games
I was their Head of Development for roughly three years. I managed a team of producers and QA engineers, working on releases like Human: Fall Flat, For The King, The Ascent and many, many more. It was a great time to be at Curve. During my time there we won Publisher of the Year at the MCV Awards two years running and a Publishing Hero award at Develop. We had an amazing team across the whole company, and it was a privilege to work with and support so many incredible and creative development partners.
You did something quite different after leaving Curve and before joining Genba – working in the MedTech sector?
That’s right, yeah. For two years I was a Product Owner at Fundamental VR, creating VR simulations of operations as training tools for surgeons. I had a friend who worked there and what they were doing sounded really inspiring and valuable. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of VR, so when he mentioned they were looking for POs, I thought, why not give it a try? I’m always drawn to a challenge. Actually, it’s not quite as different from making games as you might imagine! There’s lots of crossover.
I really enjoyed it, but, like a lot of people who move outside the games industry, I soon started to miss making games. Working on simulations has many rewards, but you don’t quite get the same creative buzz as you do from games.
So, when Genba made contact it was immediately very appealing. To be working on a huge venture right from the get-go is nerve-wracking but also exhilarating. With the talent and expertise Genba and the wider Azerion group has already, I believe we can really make a splash.
You’ve had a long and varied career. How did you first get into the games industry?
Ah, now there’s a tale! At Uni, I studied Physics, but after leaving I realised a career in science just wasn’t for me. I had a hard think about what I liked doing. Back in the sixth form I’d edited the school magazine and loved it, so I thought “I know, I’ll get into publishing!”
I ended up spending a couple of years working as an editor for Elsevier, who published scientific journals and books (shout out to all the readers of The International Journal of Pressure Vessels & Piping!). But what I really wanted to do is work on magazines.
I started applying for writer jobs on science mags, most of which were pretty niche; not the sort of thing you’d find down your local WH Smiths! To prep for the interviews, I used to get the tube into the Holborn Science Library so I could research what the mags were like.
On one trip, I picked up a copy of Advanced Computer Entertainment. It wasn’t a magazine I normally read but I needed something to read to make the journey more bearable. Anyway, flicking through it I saw they had an advert for a staff writer position. Thinking there was no harm trying, I fired off the requested 200-word sample review, and a few interviews later I was working on ACE. And it was awesome!
So how did you make that transition from publishing magazines to publishing games?
I spent several years in magazines, editing titles like The One, Official Nintendo Magazine, PlayStation World and more. I always enjoyed visiting developers and talking to them about how they created their games and the processes they use.
In my younger years, I’d been a bit of a bedroom coder, fiddling around on my computer and teaching myself assembler. I learnt Z80 on my Spectrum, then 6502 on my C64, then 68000 on my Atari ST. I was never good enough to do anything meaningful – getting a block to move around the screen just about broke me. So, getting to meet developers who were often breaking new ground in game design and technology was magical to me.
LEGO was just starting its first foray into games. I knew their Head of Development pretty well and he asked if I’d be interested in working for them as an External Producer, managing the development of games created by external development partners. I immediately said yes.
And that’s where my career shifted from writing about games to making them. Since then, I’ve worked on dozens of games – sometimes as external producer, sometimes internal producer, sometimes designer, sometimes a combo of all three (I thrive on stress!).
So you were an avid gamer then?
Absolutely, and still am. I cut my teeth on my uncle’s Binatone TV Master MK IV, then my parents treated me to an Atari VCS for Christmas. Then I sold the VCS to part-fund a ZX Spectrum 48k, then a C64, then an Atari ST, then an Amiga. After that, I’ve been more of a console jockey – SNES, GameCube, Xbox, Wii, PS3, PS4, Switch, XBSX, PS5… I had pretty much all of the handhelds too. Still have an Atari Lynx in the attic. And a Vectrex!
And finally, the all-important question: your favourite games of all time?
The games I tend to think of are not always the best games or even my favourites, but ones that evoke an emotion or memory. Like waiting for dad to finish watching Grandstand on the ‘big TV’ so I could play Adventure on the VCS. Or finally, after many deaths, realising that trying to hack n’ slash my way across the bridge at the start of Demon’s Souls on the PS3 was a recipe for disaster. Or playing Fall Guys on PS5 with my two daughters, taking turns with the controller and cheering each other on. I think shared experiences are often when gaming is at its best, whether on the couch or online.
To find out more about games publishing opportunities with Genba, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org