Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry - 2017
Studio Director, Media Molecule
Media Molecule co-founder Siobhan Reddy attributes her journey into the games industry to “a love of telling stories, dressing up, and believing in fairies as a little girl.” Small wonder then that the studio’s biggest games – LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway and the upcoming Dreams – are very much centred around imagination.
Reddy takes pride in how unorthodox her team’s games are, observing that recent years have shown just how much the world’s gaming audiences crave something beyond the normal slate of AAA action blockbusters.
“When we were making LittleBigPlanet, people used to ask us if we thought players would want to create stuff – and here we are 10 million levels on,” she says. “Since then, the ‘creative gaming’ genre for this generation has blossomed, but imagine if we had been put off back then because it was new.”
Keen not to take all the credit for Media Molecule’s success, Reddy highlights her co-directors as inspirational figures: Kareem Ettouney, Alex Evans, Mark Healey and David Smith.
“Each of them is entirely different from the other, but we come together somehow,” she says.
“Being part of Media Molecule is amazing. Innovation takes real effort, and working together takes generosity. We have a team that has these things in spades and I am proud to be part of it.”
Reddy’s tips for any potential games creator looking to make his or her mark on the industry are simple: “Practice. Make work that comes from the heart and do it with intent. Try not to smoke your own dope and ship it.”
Creative Director, Rocksteady
Sefton Hill rose to fame on the back of the Batman Arkham games. He is one of the key people responsible for a series that has defied the myth that licensed games don’t work.
“We have complete freedom to work with these incredible IPs and deliver a gaming experience that is not confined to a movie storyline,” he says.
Hill joins a raft of GamesIndustry.biz 100 members who began their career in a low-paid QA role.
“I worked hard and got lucky,” he explains. “I switched from QA to a junior designer position, and by chance I got speaking to Nick Clarke, the producer of a new Dreamcast project [Red Dog], and managed to convince him that I knew what I was talking about. He took a chance on me and gave me the lead designer position. We didn’t sell a load of copies but we worked our asses off and I probably learnt more on that project than any other.”
The industry has a lot to thank Clarke for. Hill, alongside Jamie Walker, co-founded Rocksteady in 2004, which is now one of the UK’s leading AAA studios. It was acquired by Warner Bros in 2010.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve managed to build a studio that is home to such an array of amazingly talented people,” concludes Hill. “However, I try not to focus too much on the past because we work in such a competitive industry. When we start a new project we need to prove ourselves all over again.”
Studio Head, Rare
While gaming was “always a huge passion” for Craig Duncan, it wasn’t until 2002 that he realised it might become a career. Starting at automotive and avionic companies, he eventually joined a software engineering firm.
“Then I had my lightbulb moment at 25,” he says. “Games are big software projects, too.”
Duncan worked at Codemasters, Midway and Sumo before taking charge of Rare in 2011. He says the E3 reveal of Sea of Thieves and Rare Replay remain a career highlight, with the latter helping the studio reconnect with fans from its 1990s heyday.
“Ah, but maybe Rare’s heyday is still to come,” he says. “I believe Rare’s continued success has been shaped by doing new things over many years.
“I believe developers need to have a read on what players will enjoy in the future – call this the business view. Then you match this with your speciality, unique ideas, execution and passion – that’s the creative view. Get these together with the right team and you might have something.”
Studio Director, Creative Assembly
Creative Assembly has enjoyed huge growth under the leadership of Tim Heaton.
He has led the developer as it expands Total War to new platforms, plus created games based on Alien and Halo. The studio now has 460 staff.
“It’s never been a strategy to grow Creative Assembly, we’ve just taken the opportunities that seemed sensible,” Heaton says. “We are a craft-led studio, and we fight against getting too corporate. Being surrounded and challenged by clever, thoughtful, experienced people is fantastic, and CA has always been rich in those.”
Heaton’s career began in 1982 when he made a game in his bedroom and published it on cassette for BBC Micro. He then moved to Gremlin, under the tutelage of Ian Stewart and James North-Hearn. “Halcyon days of Britsoft that did, at times, seem a little bit rock and roll.” he says.
From there came stints at Atari and EA. In fact, it was EA where he met one of his more inspirational leaders, Tom Frisina.
Heaton says he doesn’t have a mission, although his to-do list has “a thousand things on it.”
Chris van der Kuyl
Chairman, 4J Studios
For his entire career, Chris van der Kuyl has been a business leader.
He formed his own multimedia company in 1992, four years later he created the games company VIS, and his first two titles were HED and Earthworm Jim 3D.
During these early years he found himself inspired by David Jones and DMA Design.
“Growing up in Dundee and seeing a bunch of local guys a few years older having so much success gave me the belief that we could do it,” says van der Kuyl.
In 2005 he set-up 4J Studios with Paddy Burns, and has worked on a string of games for multiple publishers. Today it’s best known for developing the Minecraft console editions.
He’s since moved from day-to-day management to become chairman at various companies (including 4J and Team17).
“I love building businesses almost as much as making games,” he says. “The change in role is a reflection that the next phase of my career, along with Paddy, is looking to invest in other teams as well as our own.”
Sam & Dan Houser
In being responsible for the most popular video games in the world, these developers and directors are actually two of the most influential people in any entertainment medium.
Their most recent release, Grand Theft Auto V, is comfortably the most successful AAA title ever made, topping the UK charts ten times and continues to sell almost four years since its release. It has been a cultural phenomenon like no other.
Beginning their careers at BMG, the Housers signed the first GTA games before forming Rockstar and becoming best known for leading the franchise. The duo tend to avoid the media spotlight and honourably insist on the entire studio getting credit for the work.
The company will release a sequel to its other massive IP, Red Dead Redemption, this year.
Director, Ninja Theory
Originally part of Just Add Monster, Nina Kristensen went on to co-found Ninja Theory, the Cambridge-based studio behind Heavenly Sword and Enslaved.
More recently, she’s supported the team working on new IP Hellblade and set up Senua Studio, a new division that brings realtime virtual characters to life for stage, VR, film, broadcast and, of course, games. She has established Ninja Theory as one of the UK’s most renowned and acclaimed studios, as well as becoming a figurehead for women in the industry.
“I am painfully aware that a number of women have had very nasty experiences in this industry, which is utterly abhorrent,” says Kristensen. “It’s not like that everywhere, though. My personal experience has been incredibly inclusive and supportive and I’d recommend the industry to anyone in a heartbeat.
“Whilst the teams I’ve worked with have been male-dominated, they have also been very diverse. If you think about all the different disciplines that need to come together to fulfil the creative vision of a video game, together with the fact that developers are passionate people who will often move countries for the right job, it’s easy to see how you can get a wonderful mix.”
Head of Production, TT Games
The former Codemasters game designer joined the LEGO company in 2001 with a brief to create a new generation of LEGO games.
Two years later he co-founded Giant Interactive to publish LEGO Star Wars, which was developed by Traveller’s Tales. Over 100 million LEGO games have been sold since, with Giant and Traveller’s Tales acquired by Warner Bros in 2008.
Smith’s career began where many do, down the pub. “I quit university to write about Mega Drive games at Future Publishing,” he says. “[Editor] Neil West interviewed me over a game of pool.”
Elsewhere, Smith co-founded and remains a director of The National Videogame Arcade, a five-storey building in Nottingham dedicated to game culture. He also sat for many years on the BAFTA Children’s Committee.
“I’m delighted that BAFTA sets games alongside films and TV as a culturally significant medium, and I was pleased to launch the BAFTA Young Game Designer’s Competition while on the Children’s Committee,” Smith says.
Studio Director, Sports Interactive
Miles Jacobson had an unconventional start in the games industry.
He was working as a manager in the music industry and swapped two tickets to Blur for a chance to test Championship Manager 2.
“A few months later, having faxed through lots of feedback, I met the [studio founders] Collyer brothers in a pub, and they asked me if I’d help them with their contract,” Jacobson recalls. “I started helping them on the business side, which they didn’t have much interest in.”
Over time, Jacobson moved from advisor to MD and would soon have creative input on the titles. He also oversaw the studio splitting from Eidos and losing the Championship Manager brand.
“That was a very difficult decision and process - one that many thought we were crazy for, but it’s worked out pretty well,” he says.
Outside of games, Jacobson is active with various charities including War Child, and last year created a game compilation for the charity that was published by Sega.
Jason and Chris Kingsley
Over the years, the Kingsley brothers have grown their studio to over 200 staff and more than £20m in revenues. Their huge portfolio includes the classic Alien vs. Predator games and the critically acclaimed Sniper Elite series.
Rebellion even extends beyond the world of games – as Chris observes, the firm produced a No.1 movie in Dredd 3D and a No.1 game in Sniper Elite V2 within the same year. “I don’t know of any other UK company that’s done that,” he says.
Their origins, however, are surprisingly humble. Jason began by making board games, and originally studied Zoology at Oxford University. However, freelance art and game design work – combined with Chris’ self-taught experience of coding for the Atari 800 – saw them leap into video games.
“What we’ve done hopefully shows that you can make games that appeal to people throughout the world,” says Chris. “Sure, you have to be agile, always thinking ahead, and constantly trying to improve, but small companies can make a big impact.”
Jason adds: “Rebellion is something like 90% export-driven, so bringing cold hard cash into these islands from places like China, Brazil, the USA and so on is valuable to the UK GDP. Others can do the same.”
CEO, Splash Damage
Paul Wedgwood has had a varied career. Leaving behind his work as a network engineer for prestigious clients that included 10 Downing Street, he joined the gaming world with a stint at ISP and gaming website BarrysWorld. He even spent time as a presenter for an Australasian video games TV show.
His work at BarrysWorld led him to meet the core members of the team that would later form UK studio Splash Damage in 2001. Since then the studio has worked on numerous major titles including Doom and Gears of War.
Last year, Wedgwood sold Splash Damage for $150m to chinese food firm Leyou.
CEO, CCP Games
Under Hilmar Pétursson’s management, acclaimed sci-fi MMO Eve Online has enjoyed ten consecutive years of subscriber growth – something almost no other MMO can claim. It’s the culmination of a “lifelong enthusiasm for games” that stretches back to when he was just nine years old.
“I saved up money to buy a Sinclair Spectrum and had to use Icelandic to English translation guides to learn how to use it,” he recalls. After studying computer science and joining a VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) start-up in 1996, he spent four years developing his skills before jumping ship to the studio he now calls home.
Last year, CCP moved its entire management team to London. Far from being a jarring transition, Pétursson has embraced life in the UK.
“We just moved to London and everyone has really taken to the place,” he says. “It’s been great. Besides being an amazing city in and of itself, London is a great location because it’s central to Europe, so it’s easy to get pretty much anywhere. And it’s home to amazing talent.”
Co-founder, Sumo Digital
Darren Mills might never have come to the games industry had he followed his original career path. Working initially in TV as a designer and animator for introduction sequences, he later became a cameraman and editor for a variety of programmes.
“I worked in a video games shop on Saturdays when I was in college and my first job interview was at a games company. I was offered the job but I took the TV role instead,” Mills explains. “I always had one eye on the games jobs as they appeared and in 1995, when one came up at Gremlin, I had to give it a try.”
At Gremlin, he served as lead artist, before moving on to Infogrames and eventually co-founding Sumo Digital in 2003. With hit titles like LittleBigPlanet 3 and the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing series under his belt, not to mention the new Crackdown and Dead Island 2 on the way, Mills has no regrets about leaving broadcasting behind.
“The thing I noticed the most when leaving TV and moving to games was the age difference,” he says. “In TV, it felt like everyone in the industry was in their mid-forties and very much stuck in their ways.
“Games has been inspiring, energetic and addictive. Changing industries has never occurred to me since.”
CEO, Frontier Developments
One of the longest-serving figureheads on this list, David Braben’s accomplishments include co-creating the worldwide hit Elite with Ian Bell, co-founding the Raspberry Pi Foundation to help new audiences learn to code, three honourary doctorates, plus fellowships from BAFTA and the Royal Academy of Engineering. To name a few.
Braben’s childhood love of science fiction, the impact of Star Wars and his teenage fascination with programming drove him to attempt the creation of new worlds in BASIC. Despite some initial setbacks – “while I had imagined stars whooshing by, it would take several seconds for the dots to even appear” – he pressed on with learning new programming languages.
“There was no games industry back then,” he recalls. “At the end of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was mostly a loose collection of excited, young, well-meaning amateurs. Computing was my hobby, but even when I started writing Elite with Ian, I still thought of myself as a scientist.”
Braben has been a major proponent for improving the UK’s skillbase and encouraging more children and aspiring games makers to learn coding.
“The more games that support user content creation, like Minecraft, and allow it to be shared, the better,” he says. “This doesn’t have to be coding. My personal goal with Raspberry Pi was to help people lose their ‘techno-fear’.”
Rhianna Pratchett is one of the industry’s best known games writers. Beginning her career in journalism, she built her reputation penning the stories for cult favourites such as Heavenly Sword, Overlord and Mirror’s Edge. Yet it’s the acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot and its 2015 sequel that she’s best known for today.
Nevertheless, despite all the accolades, Pratchett has decided to leave the world of Lara Croft behind.
“Working on Tomb Raider took a lot out of me,” she explains. “As a freelance writer working on a AAA title – let alone one with the legacy of Tomb Raider – you tend to get a lot of pressure, but not a lot of control. I thought it was time to leave on a high note and engage in other ventures. Ultimately, I feel I have more to give and learn.”
Pratchett has been part of a movement that has seen games writing taken more seriously, particularly in the indie space. “It feels like games are becoming a little braver with theme and content, character, diversity and actually having something to say,” she adds.
CEO, Playground Games
Gavin Raeburn has been making award-winning games for over 30 years, ranging from Codemasters’ Dirt, Gird and F1 titles to the Forza Horizon series. The latest Horizon is the highest-rated Xbox exclusive of this generation so far, and the culmination of everything Raeburn has worked for since discovering games via his friend’s ZX81 at just 13 years of age.
“Understanding you could create your own games, like the ones I saw in the arcades, was beyond magical to me,” he says. “I was then lucky enough to be given a Spectrum 48K for Christmas and then, more importantly, a Commodore 64. This is where I learned to code and sell my first game at the elderly age of 16.”
Raeburn is most proud of Playground particularly given the climate in which it was formed.
“2010 was a very tough time,” he explains. “So many great studios were closing, especially in the UK, and publisher interest in console development was declining. Forming Playground against that backdrop and achieving all our goals... I’m incredibly proud of that.”
He is also keen to sing the praises of a former partner studio. CD Projekt Red was once a “relatively small porting house” that localised some of Raeburn’s racing games into Polish and Russian.
“This work was done to fund development of The Witcher,” he says. “For anyone looking to start their own team, I don’t think it gets any more inspirational than the story of CD Projekt Red.”
CEO, Sumo Digital
Carl Cavers has been involved in games development for more than two decades, shunning the world of quality management systems for a role at Gremlin Interactive. Today, he is best known for Sumo Digital, a development house he helped set up 14 years ago, and has been instrumental in securing relationships with Sega, Xbox, PlayStation, and the BBC.
“Setting up Sumo and building it into a world-class studio, with a thriving creative environment, is my proudest achievement so far,” he says. “Oh, and being involved with this great industry for 22 years.”
He lists his inspirations as fellow Sumo co-founder James North-Hearn, as well as Sid Standard, the leader of a cycling team Cavers belonged to when he was young. “His quote – ‘It’s all rideable’ – has become my mantra for life,” he explains.
When asked for the secret of Sumo’s long-running success, the CEO attributes it to “a team with complementary strengths and a shared vision.”
He continues: “You need the team, the right motivation, the right culture and to remain humble. You also need to love what you do – development is more than a job, it’s a way of life.”
Sumo is now creating its own IP Snake Pass.
Co-founder, Ninja Theory
Currently working on Hellblade – an action game that also looks at the psychological effects of trauma – Tameem Antoniades is keen to do what he can to expand the remit of the industry.
He has led the creation of Ninja Theory’s acclaimed products, including Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and DmC: Devil May Cry, and says that those he’s collaborated with have been hugely inspirational to his career.
“People who have directly helped me grow are Andy Serkis in terms of working on set, Alex Garland in terms of writing and direction, and Kim Libreri from Epic in terms of visual effects development,” he says. “These people are giants to me and I hear their guiding, sometimes berating voices in my head on a daily basis.”
Like many of his peers, Antoniades taught himself to code by making digital art and music on his Amiga.
“If you love technology and art, I can’t think of a better industry to be in,” he says.