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Eutechnyx' Todd Eckert

Racing studio's North American boss on new business models, the importance of brands and tax relief

Eutechnyx was founded in Gateshead in 1987, and quickly built up a name for itself as a leading developer of racing games. In modern times, the company has grown beyond its family roots - in 2008, it opened second studio in Pittsburgh, headed up by director of North America, Todd Eckert. Formerly from the film industry - he was a producer on the Joy Division biopic Control - he's now making high-level calls as the developer moves towards online and micropayment-based racers.

At the GameHorizon conference in Eutechnyx' hometown of Gateshead, GamesIndustry.biz spoke to the effusive Eckert about the developer's plans to expand beyond racing games, the appeal of microtransactions, the important of brands and the effect of the government cancelling planned tax relief for the UK games industry.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat's your feeling about regional conferences such as GameHorizon?
Todd Eckert

It's interesting because this is the third time that I've been to GameHorizon and the second time I've spoken. It seems to me like it's increasingly less regional, and more national/international. So if you look at the fact that not only does Ian [Livingstone] host it, he always does a great job... guys like Jesse Schell, he's fantastic. We live in the same town, I live in Pittsburgh so I get those talks as a one-to-one talk. So of all the conferences that I go to, I think I enjoy this one most.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you think it's important that there are very few other ways for a small indie dev to meet big international guys like you?
Todd Eckert

It seems to be the best way, really. That's one of the reasons why this one works. No matter how big you are... I mean if you're Peter Molyneux I suspect it's beneficial to meet smaller developers who are smaller and hungrier, and in your absolutely deserved ivory tower you don't always get the chance to talk to them. I think cross-pollination is incredibly important.

GamesIndustry.bizAnd of course it's potentially under danger, because of the UK tax relief stuff.
Todd Eckert

Yeah, of course. It's weird because you look at it like in America's film industry. America was the centre of the world film industry just by virtue of the fact that it was - it wasn't for any particular great reason. And Canada, it was essentially a lampshade, they made two movies a year, they said that "well, okay, the people that make movies spend a lot of money. It's a creative industry, creative industries spawn off other industries, and it's something that you can export all over the place, you don't have to have a factory to do it. Okay, so let's incentivise that. And they took a giant chunk of production away from the US, and the US went "s***."

So they had places like Louisiana, and then all over the place, even in California, so pretty much everywhere has come up with incentives, incentives are the norm. So in the US right now you still have that monetarily second fiddle approach to Canada. Because Canada gives massive incentives in Montreal, we looked to Montreal for opening a studio. And the issue is not whether or not the incentives work, but whether or not we're going to find anybody that we can work with over there, because they're all gobbled up by Ubisoft and the like. So I think incentives are very, very important, that being said I think some of the most interesting work in the world comes out of the UK. And you can't replace vision with inexpensive labour.

GamesIndustry.bizIan was saying tax breaks looks like begging rather than pride, that we should come up with something that reflects more positively on what the UK games industry can do.
Todd Eckert

That being said, when I did Control we were the only film going on in the UK at that time because we were a quintessentially British film. We flirted with Luxembourg, we flirted with some of the other places where you could get incentives, but it felt wrong.

GamesIndustry.bizHad to be Manchester, huh?
Todd Eckert

Actually, no it was in Nottingham. The reason was Manchester doesn't look like Manchester looked in the 70s, and East Midlands Media gave us a pretty substantial incentive to go there. But the UK in general had no incentives when we were doing it, so we had the sound guy from Harry Potter because he wasn't working and didn't want to go to Eastern Europe.

While vision is hugely important, I feel that the UK government is not going to solve its overall ills by trying to cut off the only industries that remain to it. If you move to an entirely service-based economy you will fail. Giant mistake.

GamesIndustry.bizNo plans to move out of the UK yourself then?
Todd Eckert

Well, the company was founded in the UK. The family that owns it, they are not only very British guys but they are Geordies. I would be very surprised if the core of the company would ever move from here. That being said, our expansion into areas like China and in America - I think that's been important to where we are now and it's definitely going to be important to our future. But if you look at the key creatives: still here.

GamesIndustry.bizThat's good to hear. When you hear about stuff like Eidos being bought by Square Enix, there's an element of "oh no, there goes another British company..."
Todd Eckert

Well yeah, and that just feels odd. We're looking at growing the company and hiring more people - and we're hiring now, and we're hiring here. It's a matter of being able to find the right people and put them into positions of giant responsibility. Seriously, we do trial by fire. If you get somebody from university, and you see raw talent, it's then our history to give them the chance to either prove that they're that good or you find out that they're not. You'll never have long-term employees - and we've got a bunch of long-term employees right here - unless you say "alright, you seem pretty smart, let's give it a shot."

GamesIndustry.bizDo you expect to increase the number of projects you're doing as a result of all this hiring, or is it more about supporting your existing games?
Todd Eckert

Well we've already expanded that. We're getting more into character games as well as just vehicle games - expanding the palette of what we're doing. And all of the games that we make are with our own engine. I think that's very important to our future, just because we love racing games, we love cars, and we've got relationships with all the most important car companies in the world, including some really weird ones that people don't necessarily know.

I Just got the paperwork for a German supercar company called Gumpert. They make this car, it's another hand-made, million-euro let's go 250 miles an hour car. So we kind of established that relationship. But I think what you're going to see with us is different types of business. We've already kind of expanded our vision of how we do business, and I think you'll see some titles that five years ago people wouldn't have thought of Eutechnyx as doing.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.