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Games industry pioneer Ian Hetherington dies

Former Psygnosis founder and UK industry veteran dies after short illness

The founder of Imagine Software, Psygnosis and Evolution Studios, Ian Hetherington, has died after a short illness.

Hetherington was part of the team that launched PlayStation: he and the Psygnosis team directly influenced the technology that went into that first console.e. As the head of Psygnosis, he worked on major titles including Lemmings and Wipeout.

Hetherington co-founded the short-lived Imagine Software in 1982, before forming Psygnosis in 1984 alongside David Lawson and Jonathan Ellis. He stayed at the company until 1998, when he left to form Evolution Studios, another outfit based in the Liverpool area that went on to create a series of hit racing games, including WRC and MotorStorm.

He left in 2007 and has since held senior roles at Realtime Worlds, Midoki and Immotion Group. He most recently appeared in a documentary marking 30 years of Lemmings.

The news follows the death of fellow Psygnosis and Imagine Software founder David Lawson earlier this year.

Tributes to Ian are already coming in from across the industry on social media and via email.

Firesprite's Studio Art Director Lee Carus said in an email: "I really don't know where to start. He's had an impact on the entire direction of my life. If he hadn't have given that floppy haired kid from a rough estate, who dabbled in Amiga art, a chance who knows what could have happened?

I wouldn't have met my partner who came up to Psygnosis on a two-week cover placement which ended up being five years. 20+ years of happy marriage later we'd later go on to have two wonderful boys who are the absolute centre of our lives. It terrifies me to think of what could have happened if Ian and I's paths hadn't crossed and I will be eternally grateful for that.

But I know this isn't a one off -- he jump started so many careers and lives. It's remarkable just how much of the UK games industry you can ultimately trace back to Ian. Some of the most senior people in the industry now, owe some part of their success to working with and learning from Ian.

"So sad to hear Ian Hetherington has passed away," wrote Lucid Games' Martin Linklater. "A proper games industry legend and a lovely bloke. I had the pleasure of working with Ian on a number of occasions... at Psygnosis and then Curly Monsters. RIP Ian. Deepest condolences to his loved ones"

BGI CEO Rick Gibson wrote "Ian was a colleague, friend and mentor who had a unique mix of creativity and commercial acumen. His track record of success and drive is remarkable and his influence on the sector, its technology and growth is profound and indelible. I have worked with him on several projects over the years and he will be deeply missed. On behalf of the charity, I'd like to pass on our condolences to his family."

Media personality Jaz Rignall said: "Ian helped bring some incredible games to life, including Shadow of the Beast, Wipeout, Destruction Derby, Colony Wars, and Lemmings. He will be sadly missed."

Trade body UKIE also wrote: "The Ukie team is sad to hear of the passing of Ian Hetherington, co-founder of Psygnosis and a key figure in the development of the UK games industry.

"Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues from across the industry."

UK industry veteran Andy Payne reached out to with the following message: 'Ian was always very kind to me over the years and we did some good business with Psygnosis back in the day on terms that Ian ensured helped us out when we were starting at The Producers.

"Latterly, Ian was a hugely passionate supporter of the BGI and National Videogames Museum in Sheffield and often gave me his very own sage advice, which always proved to be spot on. He was one of the titans of the UK video games industry and an active investor in new games companies. We will all miss him."

Sumo CEO Carl Cavers added: "Ian's contribution to the video games industry -- not just in the UK but also to players around the world -- is legendary. Often flying under the radar, he was still actively contributing to the success of many businesses in the videogame space and I know he'll be greatly missed."

Bidstack CEO James Draper told us: "To hear of Ian's passing is extremely upsetting. In our early PLC life he was an extremely helpful advisor to myself and Fran, in guiding us through the gaming landscape. He was a brilliant guy to brainstorm new concepts with and always enjoyable company.

"I personally took great joy in hearing the journey Psygnosis went on, with one of my favourite games of my childhood, Wipeout 2097, launching under his guidance. I became almost star struck hearing the creative journey he and his team went on. I will forever be thankful for his support."

Digital Extremes' Richard Browne wrote to us a story of the impact Ian had on his life: "Ian was one of a kind. He was funny, charming and incredibly kind.

"The first day I met him was at the PCW Show in 1990. It was in effect my first interview for a role at Psygnosis. He showed me the Fractal Engine demo and it blew me away. He was a visionary, far ahead of everyone else at the time. His sense of humour was killer; first day on the job I arrived from London on the train, got into the office. "Oh, you're finally here then". He set me to work on Aquaventura, which had been his pet project -- that he initially coded until Bill Pullen took over -- we finally got it done.

"At Harrington Dock's we shared a room separated by a simple partition initially, the ongoing daily banter was great. I was invited by Ian into the advanced technology group to work on stories and designs for our CD-ROM future, initially the ill-fated Star Wars game, then Microcosm. Ian knew where the future was headed, he knew we'd have demos like the UE5 Matrix one even then; he invested insane money, at the time, in SGI's and Soft Image, we were so far ahead of everyone else, and he insisted everything we rendered would be done in real time one day. All of this led to Sony, to our first glimpse of the Playstation before anyone else.

"Ian fought for every pound we invested in development. Psygnosis was totally run by development and little by marketing -- though Jonathan [Ellis] had a great eye for it as witnessed by the glossy exterior of everything we did. More games. Better games. More studios -- we expanded first in Liverpool, then Chester, Gloucester, London. Every team had its own identity but we all shared the Psygnosis ethos of quality. He gave so many individuals the kickstart to incredible careers. Dave Jones and the DMA team. Martyn Chudley and Bizarre Creations. Jon Burton and Andy Ingram of Travellers Tales. Martin Edmondson and Paul Howarth at Reflections. The list goes on and on. Small teams he'd move all obstacles out of the way of so they could focus purely on writing the games of their imaginations. He was Willy Wonka!

"I'd brought The Assembly Line team up to Liverpool to try and get them to do a game for us, he chatted to them about what they really wanted to do, which was to go back and write the perfect development kit. Psy-Q was born there and then, and so was a workable development kit for the PlayStation, which Sony had no clue how to develop.

"When SCEE was set up Ian and Jonathan Ellis started spending more time in London, I was often invited along with Ian and Phil [Harrison] to look over possible acquisitions. In then end I wanted to move to London but he wanted to keep me in Liverpool with the core team. I resigned, he got very upset. Ten minutes later he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me down the pub to celebrate. Ian always wanted the best for people, and always supported them no matter what. Leaving Ian though was the singular regret I have in all my 34 years making games. He was the most inspiring man to work for. I would have walked on hot coals for him at any time. Pretty much everyone at Psygnosis would do the same. He will be greatly missed."

Inflexion Games' Neil Thompson shared: "Like many of the stories I've already seen, I'll always be indebted to Ian for giving me a shot at the 'big time', as Psygnosis undoubtedly were at that point.

"Ian was always a larger than life and inspiring figure. He had a vision for the future of games that was so far ahead of the time regarding the use of cinematic cutscenes and intros and the adoption of high-end 3D workstations that were unheard of in the games industry at the time. It was an incredible risk as the machines and software were tens of thousands of pounds at that time, with no proven value in the medium of games. Yet Ian took that risk and encouraged the small art team internally at Psygnosis to produce some truly groundbreaking work.

"When I and a small group of Psygnosis devs broke off to form Curly Monsters, it was Ian who got in touch and offered to bankroll our start up. We will all remember sitting in a bar in Alderley Edge while he calmly wrote us a check for £250k.

"There will be many stories of Ian's great leadership skills and vision, but my abiding memories are of the man behind the figurehead. I remember a rounders game at Sefton Park in Liverpool: Ian captained one side and I the other. We had a side bet that if my team won he'd make me coffee for a week... I never did get a single cup.

"Ian was a huge Ferrari enthusiast and the site of his F50 with a child's seat in the passenger side was a sight to behold.

"On receiving my new company car -- yes, those were a thing at Psygnosis once upon a time -- early one morning and as it was being unloaded in the office car park -- it was a Subaru Impreza Turbo when they were the new hotness -- Ian poked his head out of the window and I offered him the keys to take it for a spin. "I'd love to, but I've just had a glass or two!" was his response with a wink and a smile.

"Well, I will raise a glass to Ian and all the memories from a time when the games industry was young."

Eugene Evans from Wizards of the Coast sent in: "I had the pleasure of knowing Ian for close to 40 years. We met before he'd even joined us at Imagine Software when he was working at a computer retailer in Liverpool. He joined -- I believe Bruce Everiss brought him in -- and we lived through an exciting but very challenging adventure that was the rise and fall of Imagine Software. What I will always respect about Ian and Jonathan Ellis as the founders who truly defined what became Psygnosis, was their extraordinary drive and conviction for the art of game creation.

"Ian had been seen as the finance guy, but he rose to an entirely different level demonstrating a deep appreciation for both the technical and creative crafts of games. This comes through not only in the string of ground breaking products produced by Psygnosis then Sony Liverpool but the talent that he cultivated with great success and continued to support after he left Sony. Despite all this he was always grounded in his northern roots. We met so many times over the years at various events and conferences and with great comfort we continued a long time conversation about the games business and product. His passing is a loss to us all."

Nick Burcombe, one of the original creators of Wipeout, wrote this: "I first met Ian back in 1987 when I was invited, during my school holidays, to come and test a new game called 'Terrapods'. This brief experience of seeing game actually being made and then reporting on bugs and then seeing them fixed, was a pivotal moment.

A couple of years later, Ian and Jonathon offered me a role as Psygnosis' very first full-time 'Games Tester', a new role at the time and it changed the course of my life forever.

Psygnosis' went from strength to strength under his captaincy. Hiring and signing pretty much all of the best UK programmers and artists to meet the ever-increasing demands of the 16-bit resurgence, but he never just hired for current market conditions, he gathered the best people to be ready for whatever was coming next.

He also had an incredible eye for picking out the talent elsewhere around the country too. Signing up and facilitating some of the best 3rd party developers in the UK. Companies like DMA Designs, with their famously addictive (and adorable) Lemmings and of course Reflections Interactive, Bizarre Creations and Traveller's Tales... but these are just a few amongst many great developers and Ian knew how to pick them.

The long-term impact of all these amazing companies and Psygnosis' influence in the wider UK development sector cannot be overstated. Ian deserves so much credit from so many people and industry wide recognition.

From a personal point of view, the turning point for my career was when he asked me to help out on the game design of the struggling project "Aquaventura", my first role in the designer seat. It didn't go very well, but I was able to get involved in the game before it went to testing and that was the most exciting thing in the world.

For maybe a couple of years, Ian allowed me to try again and again, to contribute to a handful of games that were showing signs of difficulties. Infestation, Air Support, Red Zone, Combat Air Patrol, again each with fairly limited success.

Ian's seemingly unwavering belief in all his developers was one of his greatest characteristics. We were allowed to get it wrong and he would still back us, we were allowed to make mistakes and he would still back us, we were allowed to take risks and he would still back us. His belief in all of the developers he'd assembled and equally, his focus on what we might be capable of 'next', is incredibly inspiring, especially today.

As we approached the end of that 16-bit floppy disk/cartridge era and the next major platform transition was looming, Ian had already invested in us and this put Psygnosis way ahead of the game. We were one of the few companies that had a vision about what could be done with the new CD-Rom format.

This was the time when I, along with the plethora of incredibly talented people around me, got a chance to design my first game from scratch. Jim Bowers in particular, backing my idea and convincing Ian I had something in my head worth exploring, and of course, as many will know, that that game was a career defining game for me - namely 'Wipeout' for the original PlayStation.

He backed us when the risks were huge, he enabled us to break new ground and he always pointed us towards the next big challenge.

His legacy is still very much present in today's UK Dev Community. Countless companies emerged from former Psygnosis employees, thousands of people hired across so many other companies too. It's going to be very difficult to quantify just how far the tendrils of Ian's influence have reached right across the industry and into the present day.

So, whilst I'm saddened by his passing, it was clearly, far too soon, I'm also reminded of the great and transformative times we all shared at Psygnosis. Exciting, difficult, innovating times.

Ian Hetherington was simply the greatest facilitator of dreamers, I'm ever likely to meet and I'm eternally grateful for having done so."

Nick Parker of Parker Consulting added: "I have known Ian since the early days of the formation of Sony Computer Entertainment in the early '90s. He was an astute business man who not only understood the business of games but brought significant business acumen to investment and growing companies. Over the years he proved his generosity of spirit by putting a number of business opportunities my way and he was always happy to act as a sound board and another pair of eyes. He will be greatly missed."

Christopher Dring avatar

Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who