Fuse Games was founded in 2002 by Adrian Barritt and Richard Horrocks, creators of the Pro Pinball series. A year later, the studio signed a publishing deal with Nintendo to produce pinball title Super Mario Ball for the GBA, which was followed by Metroid Prime Pinball for the DS.
Now Fuse is looking to expand - not only by developing games in different genres and for different platforms, but by aquiring new staff and moving away from the 'one game at a time' model.
However, what won't change is the studio's unusual attitude to sharing its royalties. As Barritt explains in this interview, 50 per cent of all Fuse's revenues go to those who actually create their titles - which he believes makes for a happier company culture and ensures that key staff are retained.
Read on to find out more about Fuse's business model, how it manages to compete with its larger rivals and what the company plans to do next.
GamesIndustry.biz: Can you explain why you decided to distribute 50 per cent of your revenues between your creative team?
Adrian Barritt: When we formed Fuse we'd been in the industry a long time and we knew what worked and didn't. We wanted to do things a bit differently, and a large part of that was trying to treat the employees as we'd like to be treated ourselves.
Part of that was making sure that when the team had worked really hard on a project they received a decent reward, and received their share of the royalties. We kept things nice and simple and came up with the fifty-fifty model whereby the company keeps half of all royalties and the rest is divided equally between everybody, from the company directors downwards, who worked on that title.
It's obviously a very good incentive for everybody to work hard and take an active role in the game's development.
And how has that worked so far - are you making money from it?
Yes, we are. We identified that getting the best people we could was imperative, as was holding onto them. You can spend an awful lot of time recruiting the right people and if they leave after two years, then that's an awful waste of effort.
We're proud to say that no one has ever left Fuse since we started - and I think that's largely down to that model.
Have you encountered any problems with the model?
Not so far, no. We managed to build up some decent reserves for the company, we're very healthy financially, and I think it's really worked for the guys.
Obviously with a different balance we could have a bit more money in the bank, but I think that would affect us being able to recruit the people that we really want and hold onto them - and therefore the quality of the games.
If we motivate people sufficiently they put extra effort into the game. Then it sells well, and that in itself brings in more revenues and benefits the company.
How do you manage to compete with the larger studios when you're using that model - with studios who have much bigger development teams and budgets that run into the millions?
Another thing we tried to do differently was to come up with a new way of developing games based on something called "extreme programming". This has previously been incredibly efficient and reliable, which has enabled us to have a very efficient output.
Very little which we produce doesn't end up in the final product - there's almost no waste and our process is very tight.
What's next for the business?
We are looking to expand. So far we've only done pinball games and we're looking to move into other genres too. At the moment we're recruiting new programmers who can take us in new directions.
Also we currently tend to work on one project at once - we'd like to be able to have multiple projects, and have the flexiblity of moving staff from one project to another at different stages in their development.
Which consoles are you planning to develop for? Will you stick with Nintendo and produce titles for the Wii?
That remains to be seen. Certainly the Wii is a very exciting platform to develop for, I can't say any more than that! I can't really talk about what's in the pipeline but I'm very much looking forward to buying a Wii.
Developing for them looks like a very appealing prospect - the control methods offer a lot of exciting new gameplay opportunities.
Whilst we've curently only done things for Nintendo handhelds, branching out to other platforms is very appealing.
As an independent studio, what do you see as the challenges for the development community right now? Do you think things are better or worse than they were 10 years ago?
From our point of view, they're definitely better. The working environment we have here is the best we've ever had, and certainly all the guys share that opinion.
As far as the bigger picture is concerned it's hard to say. You see a lot of companies popping up now and more being taken over. It's quite volatile, more so than it was a few years back.
One of the challenges we face is that we make sure we've got enough work going on. One of the reasons for expanding is to make sure we always have something running and we never get any downtime. The real challenge is making the most of the people you've got and maximising efficiency.
Adrian Barritt is managing director of Fuse Games. Interview by Ellie Gibson.