Team 17 has been around for more than 15 years now, making it one of the oldest independent development studios in the world. The company is best known for producing the Worms series, which has appeared on a huge variety of platforms since its 1995 debut - with over 9 million units sold to date.
But there's more to Team 17 than just Worms - in fact, the studio has produced more than 40 titles for 15 different gaming platforms. Now, as the industry gears up for the next-gen console battle, GamesIndustry.biz caught up with studio director Martyn Brown to find out what's next for Team 17, and the UK development industry in general.GamesIndustry.biz: What's the state of play currently at Team 17? Are there any plans to expand in the works?
Martyn Brown: There's a lot on the cards right now. We've managed to make the leap from current-gen and handhelds to next-gen reasonably easily, to be fair, and as a result we're readily hiring and expanding the team.
I'm not sure to what levels as yet, but we should be approaching 100 staff by the end of the year. Previously we've had a barrier of 80 to 85 or so, because we don't wish to lose whatever it is that makes this place tick. But with good opportunities on the horizon and our risks spread across multiple, good, honest and reliable publishers, we can take comfort in our expansion.
Do you think the British development industry is in a healthy state at the moment?
I can only talk from an insular point of view, since things are pretty good for us at the moment - and we've certainly seen both sides of the coin in recent years. People I've spoken to are generally very upbeat, and it's great to hear that after a number of quite difficult years for most independents.
Obviously there are fewer of us, and it's as hard as ever to actually get moving. And yes, development and publishing deals take an age to get any kind of ink on them. But I think there's a notable upswing in moods at the developers I've spoken with, certainly.
Why has Team 17 survived, when so many other UK developers didn't?
I'd like to think it's through grit, honesty and integrity. We've been helped by the tremendous loyalty and dedication of the staff as well as support from major publishers - when we perhaps needed it the most. Obviously we've also had our IP to rely on, and recently it's been great that we've managed to move onto other things, without having to rely on that to see us through pretty much exclusively.
I think our experience has told and if anything, we cut a lot of corners and get straight to the quick these days - we're very transparent and very straightforward. Atypically Yorkshire through and through, I guess.
What are your plans with regard to the next-gen consoles?
What's interesting for us is that we can manage a full next-generation title using the fabulous Unreal 3 engine at the side of smaller, side projects for 360 Live Arcade, and also up and coming things for Sony's digital platform on PS3. I can't elude to what they are just yet, though...
I think expectation levels have been a little unrealistic in terms of what the new consoles will bring. But as ever, we're simply opting to bring high-definition, quality entertainment where we can - and making most of the facilities and features offered by the new machines.
Do you plan to support the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 equally?
Historically we've been platform-agnostic, which is a poncy way of suggesting we're not too fussy! Most of that has come from our work on Worms, which has been on more platforms than the Flying Scotsman. We plan to continue to develop games on whatever platform it makes sense to do so on.
Wii is a different ball-game because it requires a different conceptual approach if you want to make the best of it. The other two platforms are the ones packed with more horsepower, and I think it's obvious that you need to try and concentrate more on the substance than the style - which you have to take for granted will be, or at least should be, of a high quality.
Do you think Sony will win the battle this time around?
It's certainly going to be interesting. I wouldn't call it a 3-pronged race like perhaps it was last time around, since the Wii is a little different and maybe widens the market.
I'm sure Microsoft's 360 has a little lead already with it being available for a year, but obviously Sony has no intention of lying down. At the end of the day, it'll be down to having great games on the systems and who offers the player the most.
If a publisher wanted to buy Team 17, would you consider their offer? Or would you rather remain independent?
We enjoy good relationships with a number of major publishers, with non-competing titles. As a company there would be no huge benefit for us to jump on board a publisher other than for long term security.
Everybody and everything has its price and I probably can only speak for myself and not our entire board with respect to that question, but I'm really happy with Team 17's position right now - I know I'm not a particularly corporate beast either!
Given the additional opportunities on digital distribution and reinvention of our earlier IPs, as well as new ideas and additional development partnerships we've got looming, we have a strong case to be celebrating independence for a good few years yet. Besides, who'd want a load of Yorkshire blokes knocking about the place?
What do you think of the news that E3 is being turned into a much smaller show? Has the ESA made the right decision?
Despite always enjoying E3 for its many delights and the fabulous 'networking' opportunities out there, I've long been a firm believer that its own over-indulgence would get the better of it eventually.
I find it hard to justify the numbers I hear about in terms of promotion and marketing, and to who or what it was selling specifically. Every time I've been there, there have been geeks filling bags full of tat and crap and queuing to gawp at barely-dressed women, which I admit I sympathise with... But a more focused event that knows what it's actual intention is will be much better.
As long as whoever was responsible for turning E3 into what it became doesn't descend on GDC or Leipzig, then that's ok with me.
Martyn Brown is the studio director for Team 17. Interview by Ellie Gibson.