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Rare's Mark Betteridge

The developer's studio head on why its new facility heralds a new way of working

That the games business is in a process of change is a statement very few seem willing to argue with - but how that change is manifesting itself is slightly different everywhere you look.

As a studio owned by Microsoft, Rare has recently been tasked with projects such as the Xbox 360 Avatars, and is currently working on Natal-related ideas - but as working practices change, new methods are needed to maintain efficiency. Here, studio head Mark Betteridge outlines the deeper thinking behind the company's move to open a new, media-savvy studio in Fazeley - and why the wider industry may indeed follow suit.

GamesIndustry.biz What benefits will the new studio bring to Rare?
Mark Betteridge

Well, we've been in business for a long time, and teams have become somewhat unwieldy in the development process - very inflexible, very expensive. Over the last six or seven years it's really started to get out of hand, and companies and teams that were having great success before are realising the same thing.

We've thought for some time that the way teams have become very bloated and inflexible, with large numbers of people working on a project - it becomes inefficient to develop games that way, and to be successful developing games that way.

Obviously you can still create products in that way, but in terms of a business, and a positive profit and loss, it's not really effective.

Also, it's about the core team maintaining focus on a project which can have in excess of 100 people at any one time.

Now, we believe very firmly that Twycross is in our DNA, it's still going to be very much the centre of of the creative hub of Rare, but the way that development demands are now we need the availability of a greater skillset of people - and we also need them on a time frame that's more flexible, rather than just employing everybody full time with whatever expertise they have.

It's a model that the full industry, for example, has used very successfully for many, many years - and in terms of ourselves here that Twycross will continue to be the core creative hub. But the demands of what we're looking to do with our projects, and the quality, means that we'll have way in excess of the number of people that we could actually sit here should we want to.

Now, outsourcing is something that a lot of companies have done - especially with art - but it's not a silver bullet. We believe more in a term I've used before and that's insourcing.

[Xbox 360] Avatars was the perfect example of a small project that we were able to put forward to Microsoft, which was then green-lit and went into full production... we developed that project with just the core people here as employed by Rare, probably four or five people was all it was.

But there was sometimes in excess of 30 people, sometimes contractors, working on that project. That's a simple example, but it shows how we're able to think - creatively the idea is the diamond, and to bring that to fruition you need a lot more people in flexible and specialised roles than you're used to.

By looking at an urban location like Birmingham it means we'll be able to attract the right skillset, but also with the right level of flexibility we need to be able to draw on that expertise as and when we need it.

So there were several reasons why we felt that keeping the creative vision and direction very much at Rare, but being able to control a flexible production facility along with a staff that are able to work on those terms much more effectively in an urban location, was a good thing.

Having said that, I could be at the new facility within 30 minutes of leaving Twycross, so it's not really very far away - but we're very confident in this type of insourcing model. We're recruiting the people, managing the people, mentoring the people, and we're really excited about the extra workload and project focus we can put in key areas that just wouldn't have been possible before.

GamesIndustry.biz Will it mean any restructuring for the team at Twycross?
Mark Betteridge

Twycross will very much remain the centre of the creative direction of Rare. Before, we used to have some Portakabins here... we keep the creative hub here, but we did have contractors here, temporary staff here and some temporary office. That's how Avatars was done, here.

Now, that model showed itself to be efficient, effective, flexible - everything that we were looking for, so we're basically taking that to the next stage. We're not going to put more temporary offices on the site here, we're going to manage the process at another location where those people with those skillsets are in abundance, compared to our rural area.

And we can take that onto projects that are much bigger than Avatars - but the creative hub will definitely remain at Twycross, there won't be a big restructure here or anything of that order.

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Phil Elliott