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Taking Stock

Kuju's Ian Baverstock on how the recent share offer will affect the business going forward.

Kuju Entertainment has been creating games for more than 15 years and now has six studios in the UK. The developer's best-known games include Buzz! The Sports Quiz, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and several instalments in the EyeToy and SingStar series.

Last month it was announced that German investment group Catalis had made a GBP 4.4 million offer for the company, with shares valued at a premium of more than 50 per cent. GamesIndustry.biz sat down with CEO Ian Baverstock to discuss what the deal means for the company and whether it will change the way Kuju operates.

GamesIndustry.biz: What are the major implications of the new share offer for Kuju?

Ian Baverstock: Mostly the company will carry on as it was. The main difference will be that we'll have shareholders with a little bit more faith in the future and we'll be looking at more aggressive expansion plans for the company.

Does that include expanding internationally?

It's a little bit too early to say, but that would certainly be something we'd consider. I think there'd be some merit in us having an office in North America.

What about the incentives being offered to developers in Canada? Is that something that appeals to you?

Yes, clearly the grants available from the Government in Canada are amazing. Putting my Tiga hat on, it's something we've been talking to Government about too, but as a developer it's something you look at and think, 'Is this too good to miss?'.

Do you think the British Government should be doing more to look after developers here?

It's not obvious why governments are competing with each other by giving grants. I'd rather there were a level playing field all over the world... I think it's something that our Government needs to respond to.

In your experience, how has the market changed for UK developers over the last decade?

Clearly the industry has consolidated a lot; there are less developers making complete, cutting edge games. The publisher-owned studios are much more important than they were, which I think is a good thing.

There's also a much more diverse economy underneath the big developers and publisher-owned studios. So there are lots of smaller support companies, freelancers, really a whole eco system of smaller companies underneath - and that's really good.

So the changes have been positive?

Overall I think they've been positive. The UK is still struggling to keep its third place in the development world. Canada is obviously posing a big threat to that and Korea is going great guns, so I think the UK has got to work hard to keep it's place.

What does the UK need to do to secure that foothold?

I think you've got to look at the Government environment and the investment environment, but you've also got to look at the availablility of skilled staff and the abilty of developers to create and retain new IP. That's a key area which is very difficult to achieve in anywhere in the world, but certainly here.

Going back to Kuju specifically, your studios have traditionally been devoted to producing games in specific genres. Is that something which is set to change following this share offer?

Not really. It's something which has been a key part of our strategy over recent years and I think it will continue to be for some time yet. I think the days of Jack-of-all-trades developers are gone now; increasingly studios have got to specialise in quite a narrow area in order to get a reputation.

That's been a key part of our strategy and I think that'll go on being true. We might add more studios but individual teams will have to focus on a relatively small area to earn that 'best in the world' tag.

Is it also important to focus on specific platforms?

It's interesting. Some genres clearly work best on some platforms anyway. The principal areas of specialisation which you have in a studio are genre, but there' s clearly a lot of knowledge and expertise which comes with the platform.

If you look across the whole range of platforms it also affects the way you go about making games. If you look at handheld versus Wii versus PS3 and 360, that's three distinct approaches and audiences for the games - so that's an important part of what a studio might specialise in as well.

Do you think this new console cycle is going to be very different from a development perspective?

Yes. This time around you've got Microsoft going first and Sony second, which is a reverse of last time. That's going to make things very interesting in terms of where these two consoles will pan out in a few months time.

It's not as predictable this time. Anybody who discounts Sony at this point is mad, but you have got Nintendo with a very different offering for a very different audience. That's a whole new variable - to what extent that is a new audience and to what extent that is eating into the PS3-360 audience will be very interesting to see.

You've also got two different handhelds with PSP and DS, which means there's competition where last time there wasn't. It'll be interesting to see how this cycle compares to the last - people understand how last time worked and there will be changes.

Do you think there's going to be a clear leader again or will the market be more evenly split?

When you look at PS3-360 I don't think there will be as clear a winner. I've seen some strategy research which says that 360 isn't much ahead of where Xbox was at this point in its life cycle. The PlayStation brand is enormous and it'll be interesting to see how that works out. You've also got Nintendo coming in and potentially upsetting that dynamic... I really don't know.

Ian Baverstock is CEO of Kuju. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.