A SMALL SOLUTION
How one indie is facing the challenge of diversification
Keeping a studio small in size can make it much easier to be flexible, and it’s given people such as
Aj Grand-Scrutton (above) the opportunity to take a view of the challenges facing today’s developers. As CEO of Dlala, he’s already worked in a variety of environments, on contrasting projects, while the company thrives as it approaches its fourth birthday. Dlala partnered with Team17 to release party game Overruled; before then, it had gone it alone, and experimented for a time operating within Microsoft’s Lift London. Subsequently the team has worked on government-training game projects, and it continues to work on its own titles. “I think the single biggest mistake anyone running a studio makes is basing the company’s future on projections,” GrandScrutton says. In three to five years, he points out, the game development landscape can change considerably. “My rule is I don’t base our studio on invisible money. I make sure we have the deals we need to keep the studio running and the contracts are sorted so if it gets killed randomly, it doesn’t give us only three months to survive.”
else’s – can’t adapt to changes, and that can be the end of them.”
Looking at Sony’s official statement concerning Evolution’s closure, it’s clear that platform holders themselves have to be equally agile, which comes with a cost. When huge global videogame companies adapt in order to survive, it can result in entire studios falling, putting immense pressure on individual livelihoods. “Regular reviews take place throughout SCE Worldwide Studios, ensuring that the resources that we have in such a competitive landscape can create and produce high-quality, innovative and commercially viable projects,” the statement reads. “As part of this process we have reviewed and assessed all current projects and plans for the short and medium term and have decided to make some changes to the European studios structure.”
If Sony is demonstrating the increasingly important ability to change course, then Evolution’s staff are victims of a global machination rather than a UK-specific downturn. Writing on the official Xbox blog, Hanno Lemke, GM of Microsoft Studios Europe, revealed a similar story concerning Lionhead’s closure: “These changes are taking effect as Microsoft Studios continues to focus its investment and development on the games and franchises that fans find most exciting and want to play.” The logic behind the closures isn’t tied to the UK, then, but rather the entire state of the videogame market. In the midst of significant upheaval within the British game development scene, we can still find well-established studios that continue to succeed without shifting their ethos in order to follow trends. Oxford’s Rebellion is one of the most famous. Founded in 1992, the company deploys over 180 staff across two UK teams, maintaining its output of console and PC titles, usually within the realms of sci-fi, military and fantasy genres, sometimes calling on the jewel in its IP crown, the 2000AD library, which it has owned for 16 years.
Yet despite all of those constants – and the company’s size – Rebellion points to agility, diversity and experimentalism as reasons behind its success nearly a quarter of a century on. “I don’t think it’s that much of a secret, really,” says CEO and creative director
Jason Kingsley of his studio’s lasting success. “Chris [Kingsley, studio co-founder] and I just love making stuff we’re interested in, whether that’s buying 2000AD because we read the comic as kids, or creating the Sniper Elite games because we love our history.
“I suppose if I was looking at it from the outside, you can see we’ve been at our best when we’ve been forced to think on our feet. I definitely see parallels between our early years, fighting to deliver Alien Vs Predator and doing things we’d never done before, and now, when we’re selfpublishing multiple games and learning to thrive with all these new challenges.”
Kingsley says that talented, experienced staff, a diverse IP catalogue, and a suite of internal development technology also help, allowing Rebellion to react quickly to opportunities. As for what the Lionhead and Evolution closures mean for the UK dev scene, he’s not of the belief that it paints a picture of a region in decline, and agrees that it’s part of a broader trend.
“I’m probably not alone in saying that all of these closures and layoffs were an unwelcome surprise, but I don’t believe they represent the health of UK game development,” he says. “These events all reflect business decisions made by multinational companies rather than the abilities of the UK developers caught in the middle. It’s a blow, for sure, but as for the wider development scene I think it’s very healthy.”
For Bestwick, there’s confidence about the future of UK studios and a prediction that the situation is set to improve rather than worsen. “I’m incredibly positive,” she says. “Team17 is having the best time in 25 years, as are a number of other [UK] businesses, such as Rebellion, Frontier and Sumo. Then we have success stories including Facepunch, Ndemic and Chucklefish – all these guys have sold multimillion-unit games, and they’re all based here in the UK.”
“With the support of organisations like BAFTA Games, UKIE, The London Games Fund, even the Wellcome Trust, there is such a strong network around UK studios,” adds an equally optimistic Jele. “And now university courses here are really strong. It’s getting really exciting, and as long as you’re always looking at the next areas that could be big, I think starting a games company in the UK today is a very clever idea.”
With the Fable Legends project now officially shut down, Lionhead’s talented staff will disperse in all sorts of directions, some possibly even setting up studios of their own. For Evolution, however, the story has taken a positive turn with the announcement that another UK industry stalwart, Codemasters, is stepping in to employ the core DriveClub team. “We want to benefit from everything that they’ve learned as a team together,” Codemasters CEO
Frank Sagnier told GamesIndustry. “The whole point is to keep their DNA and build a new game.” On Sony’s decision to close Evolution, Sagnier forecasts only a positive outcome: “In terms of why these big businesses make these decisions, there are many different reasons for that. It’s often an opportunity for new startups. But this is a great thing for the UK industry, that we’re able to build this racing powerhouse – a UK studio that’s hopefully going to be the world number one in racing.”
“These events all reflect business decisions rather than the abilities of the UK devs caught in the middle”
DriveClub will live on as a PSVR title, but its core dev team is now focused on a new racing project