Best British Developers
[Originally printed in games™ 193]
The UK games industry is fighting back. After a difficult couple of years, a time in which we’ve seen many of the country’s most legendary studios shutting their doors for good, it feels as if it is finally regaining its stability. UKIE estimates that there are now 2,175 active game companies in the UK, and while that’s far too many for us to cover we have decided to shine the spotlight on some with titles in active production. These are the game companies putting the UK back on the map; striving for innovation with passion, ambitious and diligence.
Founded: 1985 • Location: Twycross
Widely recognised as one of the most creative studios to ever emerge out the United Kingdom, Rare has been innovating play and delighting players for over 30 years. The iconic golden Rareware logo became synonymous with quality, something the company earned as it entered into a prolific partnership with Nintendo between 1994 and 2002. Its staff would go on to unleash genre-redefining titles such as GoldenEye 007 whilst giving characters like Star Fox and Donkey Kong a new lease on life. The developers of Rare have been risk takers; becoming part of the Microsoft family in 2002, purchased for 375 million dollars, was the perfect embodiment of this spirit. From the outside looking in, it wasn’t a move that necessarily made total sense, and while the company became less pronounced – working behind the scenes to further improve the technology and software driving the Xbox experience – it was still able to surface for air long enough to deliver a legitimate modern classic in Viva Piñata. Rare is coming back to the forefront of British development in 2018 with Sea Of Thieves, a game that could indeed change the way we perceive and play co-operatively driven videogames – put we don’t need to tell you that here, turn to page 32 and read about it for yourself in our cover feature.
What they say:
“Rare is a really special studio, that has been around for over 30 years, but cannot be pinned down to one genre or singular type of game. What makes it so special is how it has evolved as a studio throughout its history, always looking at what could be the next big thing, what new exciting challenges this would bring to the team, and how to continually improve its culture to meet them. At the start of Sea Of Thieves, we had a completely blank slate to come up with what was the next game for a studio as special as this one, which is a pretty rare (pun intended) opportunity and one that we really wanted to make sure we took with both hands. We looked at the emerging trend of shared-world games, at developers building their games with their community, and at games that were really fun to watch or read about due to the variety of player stories emerging from them, and combined elements of all of these into an idea for ‘players creating stories together’, and eventually a shared world pirate game where you can throw sick at each other. To achieve this, we had to look at our culture and how we could evolve to meet the challenges that a completely new type of game throws up (intentional pun number two). What makes Rare so special is that our culture relies on everyone taking ownership of these challenges, always thinking of new ways we can work to meet them, and being given the freedom to go and try their ideas. With this in mind, we have embraced a completely new way of working, with our focus on continuous delivery, not building up technical debt, shipping every week to players, and taking customer feedback into the heart of our decision making. The team has worked super hard to make this a success, and we’re now in a position to capitalise on this as we near the launch of Sea Of Thieves. Here’s to the next 30 years!”
Joe Neate, executive producer
Founded: 1987 • Location: Horsham
It’s difficult to argue with the assertion that Creative Assembly has established itself as one of the biggest forces in the games industry, a true leader that emerged out of the United Kingdom through 30 years of success, innovation and excellence. Humble origins, in which the outfit focused on porting games from the Amiga and ZX Spectrum platforms to MS-DOS, quickly gave way to greater ambitions. Creative Assembly improved its expertise by working with EA on a number of sports titles throughout the Nineties before taking a major risk on its first original IP: Shogun: Total War. Creative Assembly is now the leading strategy game developer across PC and console – and it has demonstrated a keen eye for developing first and third-person action games in Alien: Isolation and Viking: Battle For Asgard. With over 500 creative minds employed by the studio – a figure that has ballooned since the Sega acquisition in 2004 – it is now a powerful and agile development machine; eight projects are currently in development, four of which are unannounced. Creative Assembly has come a long way in 30 years, and it certainly shows no signs of slowing down.
What they say:
“Creativity and quality are at the heart of Creative Assembly. We are dedicated to maintaining our heritage of crafting the greatest games experiences, with a collaborative approach, keeping our output fresh and taking great pride in nurturing our growing team of world-class, diverse and multinational talent”
Tim Heaton, studio director
Founded: 2010 • Location: Leamington
There is nothing but open road in front of Playground Games. After Microsoft’s Project Gotham Racing franchise was put on hold in 2007, there was a gap in the Xbox line-up for a fun as all hell arcade racer – enter Playground Games with Forza Horizon. The studio formed in 2010 by veterans of the industry; collectively they have delivered frequently progressive, always stunning, critically-acclaimed videogames. While Forza Motorsport struggled to introduce real change, Horizon has always pushed for more; open world racing, dynamic weather and damage systems, and game modes that push for having the maximum amount of fun behind the wheel as humanly possible. Playground expanded this year, increasing its numbers to 115 employees and opened up a second office – this one for an all-new,
non-racing, focused videogame. We don’t know what it is, but rest assured that 2018 is going to be a huge year for the studio.
Founded: 2004 • Location: London
Where would we be without Rocksteady? In 2009 the studio unleashed Batman: Arkham Asylum – changing our entire perception of licensed games in the process. The game’s success led to Time Warner acquiring the British outfit in 2010, with the scope and ambition of each of its subsequent releases expanding wildly. Rocksteady has established itself as one of the best in the industry, boasting an employee roster of over 148 in-house staffers. 2015’s Arkham Knight and 2016’s Arkham VR signalled a beautiful end to the studio’s reign in Gotham, with the latter acting as a shining benchmark to potential of 3D virtual reality spaces in videogames. Rocksteady isn’t quite ready to announce its next project, though the studio is confident that it is going to cause people to “lose their minds,” as marketing manager Gaz Deaves would put it – one thing is for certain, the whole world is watching with baited breath.
Founded: 1994 • Location: Cambridge
Ever since Frontier was founded in 1994, the studio has sought to create games and technology that pushes both itself and the entire UK games scene to the forefront of the industry. Founded by David Braben, the legendary British creator looked to follow up his work on seminal space game Elite, with the team at Frontier coming together to continue to break down the boundaries between imagination and play. Over the decades, Frontier has put a diverse library of games to its name; licensed titles to theme park sims, fun platformers and, of course, the ever-ambitious sequels to the game that started it all for Braben. Elite: Dangerous represents something of a fresh challenge, with Frontier working to maintain a live game service, to continue to engage and surprise players. With the Thargoids introduced this year, we get the sense that Frontier’s most exciting days are still in front of it.
What they say:
“After two decades working with some of the industry’s biggest names, we’ve worked hard at Frontier to become a fully independent developer and publisher of our own titles. Today, we’re focused on innovation and quality in our own games, and our Cambridge studio is growing by the day thanks to the work of our world-class team and the support of a truly incredible community of players”
Jonny Watts, chief creative officer
Founded: 1990 • Location: Wakefield
It might have spent many years known as the company responsible for Worms – and basically just Worms, forever Worms – but Team17 has completely overhauled itself, making it something of a powerhouse; a kingmaker of sorts for the independent UK development community. It is, in fact, largely considered to be the longest surviving independent developer in the world – its CEO, Debbie Bestwick recently received an MBE for her services to the British games industry in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. A passionate group of developers has formed around her at the company, and Team17 now puts its immeasurable passion and power into ensuring that other studios can get their good work off of the ground and into the hands of consumers. In 2016 the studio acquired Mouldy Toof, the studio behind The Escapists in an effort to expand further, while its work pushing the likes of Yooka-Layle and Overcooked has been met with great success. If any one thing is for certain it’s this: the entire industry – globally, not just locally – would be worse off were it not for Team17.
What they say:
“I’ve been at Team17 since the beginning of 2011. What I love most about working here is the people – both internally and our external games label partners. There’s such an ace mixture of colleagues who have been with the company for 20-plus years to fresh new talent coming through the doors. We may be larger than ever and recruiting, but it still very much feels like we’re a family”
Bethany Aston, PR & events manager
Founded: 2005 • Location: Knutsford
TT Games is, in large part, responsible for helping Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment expand into the videogame market. One of the biggest studios in the UK – branching out since its acquisition in 2007 to include TT Fusion, TT Animation and mobile developer Playdemic – TT Games is wholeheartedly focused on developing titles that can be enjoyed by players of all ages, in solo or co-operative play. It’s been a huge success; while so many big UK studios have shuttered in recent years, TT Games continues to find success in its format and formula, steadily expanding its reach and expanding its horizons as the markets change. Since the release of Lego Star Wars in 2005 we’ve had over 30 Lego games, set in the worlds of the biggest IPs in the world – it’s impressive, it’s consistent and it has brought a lot of money to the UK development industry.
Founded: 1988 • Location: Portsmouth
With over 100 titles to its name over the last 30 years, Climax has quietly become one of the UK’s most determined outlets for creativity across a, frankly, ridiculous amount of systems and formats. The studio rose to prominence in 2006 as it became the first developer outside of Team Silent to work on the Silent Hill franchise, delivering Origins and Shattered Memories during its partnership with Konami. Since then, Climax has been focused on lending its expertise to other studios across the globe. It contributed three beautiful side-scrolling stealth games for Ubisoft and the Assassin’s Creed franchise, it has worked to quickly port titles between a variety of systems and, perhaps more importantly, has begun to push the boundaries of mobile VR – its most recent title, Lola And The Giant, showing the true potential of Google’s proprietary Daydream VR headset. Climax is a hard-working studio that represents British resilience and perseverance at its best.
What they say:
“Diversity of people and projects are at the heart of Climax Studios. Set by Portsmouth Harbour with absolutely beautiful views, we’ve worked on games across a wide spectrum of platforms. With a culture of raising people up and fostering new talent, opportunities for collaboration and creativity make working here incredibly exciting!”
Anna Hollinrake, senior artist
Founded: 2006 • Location: Guildford
Few companies can boast having made as much of an immediate impact as Media Molecule. Established in 2006 and acquired by Sony in 2010, the fleet-footed (and notoriously small) team’s first game would be LittleBigPlanet and it would never look back from its incredible creation. The game drove a new way of thinking, not only internally at Sony, but across much of the industry. LittleBigPlanet’s mantra of “Play, Create, Share” has had a far-reaching impact on the way games are designed and the way in which we, as players, consume them – a reach that’s actually difficult to define. While Tearaway didn’t have the same impact as its successful predecessor, it still demonstrated that Media Molecule is capable of innovation. Dreams, its PS4-exclusive title, may have been long in development, but we’re certain that it’s going to be well worth the wait – we expect nothing but the best from this exemplary British studio.
Founded: 1984 • Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne
Reflections is basically a British institution at this point. Established in 1984, it’s one of the biggest and most important studios in the country – though its influence often goes unnoticed. Responsible for creating the Driver and Destruction Derby franchises, Reflections is now more commonly understood to be a support studio, although that’s only partly true. The truth is that it’s responsible for driving much of the technological innovations at the powerhouse publisher. Massive Entertainment may have, for example, had its name front and centre on The Division, but it was Reflections that built out over half of the world, many of its underlying systems – not to mention the incredible procedural underground DLC missions. Watch Dogs 2 and Ghost Recon Wildlands may be products of the Montreal and Paris teams, respectively, but it’s Reflections that refined the tech behind its all-important vehicles and AI. Reflections, from its smaller titles like Grow Home that focus on experimentation, to the larger projects it works on from the shadows, is an important part of the UK scene’s past, present and future.
Founded: 2008 • Location: Guildford
Innovation and experimentation is at the heart of Supermassive Games. It may have began life as a support studio, working with Media Molecule on DLC for LittleBigPlanet and with Sony on developing products to push the emerging Move technology, but Supermassive quickly came into its own in 2015 with the release of Until Dawn. With over 100 staff at its headquarters in Surrey, Guildford, the studio has established a reputation for challenging convention – particularly when it comes to storytelling and building incredible virtual spaces. Until Dawn won the studio accolades, was recognised by BAFTA for its excellence, but it’s what comes next that really shows its ambition. Hidden Agenda, demonstrating the studio’s appetite for weaving storytelling into interactive experiences. The Inpatient and Bravo Team, a showcase of the independent studio’s potential within virtual reality systems. Supermassive Games is one of the leading studios in the UK pushing for accessible play, for high-end interactive drama, and boundary breaking VR games.
What they say:
“Supermassive Games has a ridiculously high aspiration for quality in every detail. We spend a significant amount of time together as teams, looking at what we’ve done and looking at what we’ve made. We have a philosophy of software all the time, our drive is to get things up and running and reviewable right away. We like to be fluid, it allows us to drive our aspirations”
Pete Samuels, managing director
Founded: 2003 • Location: Sheffield
Sumo Digital has quickly become one of the most trusted pair of hands in the industry. It’s the studio many turn to when it needs to outsource critical portions of development out of house, leading to Sumo contributing to a variety of major franchises including Forza, Dead Space, Hitman and LittleBigPlanet. With rumours that the company is preparing to go public – in an IPO (initial public offering) thought to be worth over £150 million – the future looks bright for the Sheffield-based company. While it has built a reputation working as a support team, 2018 sees the studio driving innovation in some of last generation’s most successful series; it’s currently building the single-player campaign for Crackdown 3 and has overhauled development on Dead Island 2 after Deep Silver severed its ties with Yager Development in 2016.
Founded: 2000 • Location: Cambridge
Ninja Theory has never had it easy. The studio has worked tirelessly to create stylish and thoughtful action-adventure games that, for whatever reason, have tended to provoke certain swaths of the gaming community. But there’s always been an undeniable level of excellence to its releases; Enslaved: Odyssey To The West proved that Ninja Theory is perhaps one of the only studios outside of Naughty Dog that’s capable of delivering thrilling, cinematic action without sacrificing the storytelling or visual fidelity. DmC: Devil May Cry showed that the team is confident in its ability to take a legendary series and breath new life into its action, while 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a powerful and challenging game that also happened to feature some of the best motion capture performances that we have seen all generation. Ninja Theory might be a small studio, but it uses its leanness to its advantage. Given the skill of the team and its quick adoption of new technology, there is still more greatness to come in the future of this amazing group, and we’re looking forward to seeing what it delivers next.
What they say:
“At Ninja Theory, we want to make beautiful experiences; beautiful and entertaining games. That has been our desire for a while. I think we have hit the mark a few times over the years, with Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, DmC, and now Hellblade, and I think we have progressed with each one. I think Hellblade looks great, and hopefully everyone agrees with that!”
Andrew Vidler, technical director
This indie studio erupted onto the scene in 2016 with its development on Starbound and the success it found publishing farming hit Stardew Valley, although it’s the studio’s upcoming work that has caught our eye. Between Wargroove and Spellbound (both slated for 2018) Chucklefish looks to be one of the most exciting indie studios to emerge out of the UK in years.
No Man’s Sky may have had a rocky launch, but the work that Hello Games has done in the past year is nothing short of spectacular. Say what you will about the game and company, but its passion is undeniable. From stunt bike racing in Joe Danger to exploring the infinite possibilities of space with No Man’s Sky, we can’t wait to see what the studio does next.
Active since 2005, Mediatonic games has become one of the fastest working and most prolific game companies in the country. Known for its high-profile partnerships with the likes of Disney and Adult Swim, Mediatonic is a reliable studio that has been quietly expanding and improving itself for a decade.
A studio that needs no introduction, Rockstar North has been at the forefront of the videogame industry for decades. From Grand Theft Auto to Manhunt, L.A. Noire to Max Payne 3, there’s no end to its ingenuity and creativity. All eyes are, of course, on Red Dead Redemption II now.
Slightly Mad Studios
Making its debut in 2009 with Need For Speed: Shift, Slightly Mad Studios has only gone from strength to strength. Following the development and release of Project Cars it not only established itself as a powerful force in the sim genre, but also helped put the UK back on the map as the hub for racing game innovation.
Ever since its founding in 2010, Failbetter Games has made something of a name for itself. Its team is focused on fantastic storytelling and worldbuilding, with a particular focus on the quality of the narrative design. Failbetter’s Fallen London browser games quickly obtained a cult following and we get the feeling the studio has a bright future ahead of it.
Here’s the thing about Bossa Studios: it’s impossible to play its games without finding a huge smile creeping across your face. Between Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread and World’s Adrift, the studio has demonstrated a strong capacity for pushing expectation and finding breakthrough ways to generate enjoyment out of interactive play.
With a history stretching back over three decades, Codemasters has had its ups and its downs. Thankfully, the talented teams installed at the legendary British development outfit have pushed for a turn of fortune; the Dirt Rally series and the annualised Formula 1 racing games are proof that Codemasters is still a dominate force on the track.