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Splash Damage's Paul Wedgwood (Pt 2)

The Brink boss on company culture, the dangers of independence and APB

Last week, GamesIndustry.biz talked to Splash Damage CEO and game director Paul Wedgwood about the dangers of mediocrity, the skyrocketing costs of triple-A development and the importance of paying developers well. In this final part of the interview, he covers the risks of being independent, why the Bethesda partnership works, how the company's culture has evolved over 10 years, and whether there are lessons to be learned from the collapse of Real Time Worlds.

GamesIndustry.biz You expanded your studio substantially for Brink – is the plan that they move on at the end of the project or do you plan to build a permanent team?
Paul Wedgwood

No, at Splash Damage the entire company, every staff member, has share options in the studio. We think of everybody as being an owner. We have a team of about eight directors, the biz guys are in the same rooms and the same meetings as the product directors. So we the finance director and the studio director, they sit in the same meetings that the art director, audio director, creative director, technical director sit in. So there's no difference for us between running the business and running the games. We treat that as one task. It's well-supported these days because we realised early on that we weren't going to make that growth transition by taking things a bit more seriously. We have a proper IT team, an IT manager who used to run a game service provider as the technical director, supported by two engineers, an HR manager who's about to be supported by an HR assistant, we have our own production testing team, we have our own marketing and PR team who are kind of our evil ministry of global propaganda for Splash Damage. Because nobody is worried whether Splash Damage does well – they care about whether Brink does well, as a brand and what have you.

So there are a few things like that which have changed, but fundamentally we're just making games, no different than a movie studio making movies or a TV studio making a TV series. It only works if you've got a bunch of really talented people, and they can work just as effectively for a short period of time out of an aircraft hanger as they could out of our swish offices. You could start a game developer tomorrow on a credit card if you had the right people to come together to make the game. Now, the downside to the contractor model is that much of the greatness that you get from that collaboration comes from people really getting to know each other and understanding each other's tastes. And which fights they're having because they truly believe that something is brilliant, and which of those fights are subjective. I think we're at that point now with Splash Damage where our management team, all of the leads and all of the directors have been with the company for more than two years. Half of them have been with the company for six or seven years, and so everybody knows each other really well. If someone says "I hate that, do they hate it do they hate its impact?"

GamesIndustry.biz How strong is your confidence about financially supporting and sustaining all this growth, given it's been a couple of years since you put a game out?
Paul Wedgwood

Well, we couldn't afford to buy in a city-grade financial director, because they are incredibly expensive. If you want a CFO from a publicly-listed company, it's gonna cost you £150-200,000 per year. It's just impossible for an independent developer. So we hired one for one day a week [laughs]. So we have a guy who's floated companies – things that we'd never do – built companies from small to really large, sought investment, worked with private equity, worked with VC firms, who was himself an accountant at one of the Big Four audit firms: Ernst and Young. He's on site for a day a week and he helps us model the operations of the company, the way we structure the business, the way we plan for the future. All the basic things like management accounts, profit and loss statements, balance sheets and everything else. It takes all that stuff seriously. We always did everything by the book, largely because I had two or three business failures before splash damage, which were as a direct result of me not doing things by the book.

So when Splash Damage started, everybody had a proper employment contract that had intellectual property clauses and confidentially clauses and respected European working time regulations.

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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.

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