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

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