Codemasters' Gavin Cheshire
Vice president of the publisher's studio group talks acquisitions, expansion and having a big EGO
With the signing of Swordfish Studios last week, Codemasters managed to push its staff headcount to well over 400, securing almost 70 skilled players for its in-house development team. And with the steady growth at its Guildford studio – barely a year old and recruiting the equivalent of over one person a week – the publisher/developer is clearly pushing its internal operations above working with outside partners.
Here, Gavin Cheshire, vice president of Codemasters Studio group, talks about internal growth and ambitions, and why the Swordfish team are a perfect fit for the publisher.
The first thing to say is that Trevor Williams (MD and co-founder of Swordfish Studios), I've known for a long time, over 17 years. And we've remained friends and we've always talked for a long time, and that's been very useful. From a Codemasters perspective, when we have these studios we're keen to have them fit in and work really well. With Trevor, and some of the guys in the studio who I've also worked with, there's a connection there on that level. And because Swordfish has actually done product for Codemasters over the years, some successful games for us, we've got a good heritage and a good fit for the Codemasters Studio group.
Swordfish is just under 70 people and so we automatically add these highly skilled and experienced development staff straight in to the Codemasters Studios group. Swordfish now becomes Codemasters Studios Birmingham, headed by Trevor, who reports in to me at the Codemasters Studios group. It becomes our forth major studio and it takes our development headcount up to around 430 personnel.
It's fair to say we've been looking to grow the Studios group quite rapidly over the years, and it's fair to say our plan has always been to grow the group, but we've never been able to hit our ambitions of doing that because it's really hard to find really good, talented people, particularly en masse. When we got wind of this we did see it as a major opportunity for us. The location is great because it sits quite closely to us, and as I've said, that heritage works well. In terms of going out to recruit 70 people individually, we're still trying to do that, but it's not an opportunity that happens often. This was a great opportunity for us. It wasn't planned but when we heard about it we focused heavily on trying to make it happen.
One of the beauties of the Codemasters group is that we're utilising our central technology, EGO, across all of our studios. The beauty of Swordfish is they weren't tied to any particular in-house technology. Their latest game, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, is based on the Unreal Engine, and prior to that Cold Winter was based on Renderware. So in actual fact, that works really well because here we are with a great piece of central technology and their abilities and adaptability will mean they will be able to take that tech and utilise it for their next project. And Swordfish bought into that immediately, because that's the way they're inclined. We get a brilliant talent pool, and they are used to using a middleware solution and in this case it's now a home grown, internal solution.
Initially they will be working on a project, we can't say what that is just yet, but the bulk of the team is focused on one project. But our plans are to grow this new studio too, in the same way that we've set our Guildford studio up and we're growing those guys. It's been a fairly sensible [approach], growing from one to 54 in just 12 months. We're doing it in such a way that we're getting the right people and it all fits together nicely. Obviously Swordfish has been together for a long time and so it's already a studio with a team and a project, but our plans are to grow that with another two to three projects over the next two or three years.
[laughs] From the internal studios, I can safely say "no". Codemasters has obviously still got heritage with cricket, but Swordfish won't be asked to do a cricket game. They've moved on, their experiences are great but we're utilising them in a completely different way.
The internal studios have had an enormous amount of success, with the technology base that we've got and the games we've been delivering. And that's obviously fuelling a growth at Codemasters for us to do more internal projects. We obviously fully own our own IP and for the internal studios it's a lot easier to adapt that IP. Plus I think EGO is such a strong technology base, it's multiformat,it's got a mind to the future. It helps us a lot as we're not hogtied to the middleware solution.
Guildford was always another opportunity for us. We have a lot of developers here in Southam, but recruitment in the games industry isn't particularly easy any more, so what we can't do is assume we can get all these people on one site. You have to then move to sensible growth patterns that takes you to different regions of the country, to try and mitigate that risk as much as possible. So on the one hand we've got a publisher who's doing really well and wanting us to do more internally, and on the other hand we're hitting this brick wall. Adrian Bolton set up Guildford and he was employee number one, and he's brought in a whole different ethos to the Codemasters Studio group, coming from an Electronic Arts background. He's been able to bring in some great new ideas and some great new directions. We're getting growth but we're also adding a different talent pool as well, different experiences that work well together.
The first project out of Guildford is a brand new IP, it's home grown, it fits perfectly with the abilities and aspirations of that group. And over the last 12 months we've really been very selective about the people in the studio. Because you can put a load of people in quickly, but they need to gel. They need to work together and get the right chemistry and dynamics. If you go too fast you can break that. 53 staff sounds like a lot in 12 months but it's actually done in a sensible way. We've also moved into permanent offices, it's a great location with about 16,500 square foot in the centre of Guildford, and again we plan to grow that over the next three to five years, to about three teams as well.
It's all about balance. We can't ever not publish externally developed products, and we've got some brilliant products, so why wouldn't we? But, there's a different kind of risk associated with external development. What Codemasters is trying to do is balance its portfolio a bit better - certainly we want to work with very talented external development groups - but at the same time we want to do a lot more internally developed titles as well. If you look at a lot of other publishers, not just us, there is a certain amount of wanting to do a similar thing. It's testament to how hard it is nowadays to develop product compared to what it used to be like. How you control it, how you get the most out of it. Asking an external developer to do the amount of things required to get a game in front of an audience is just enormous. You need that flexibility that internal development can certainly do.
Gavin Cheshire is vice president of Codemasters Studios. Interview by Matt Martin.