Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry - 2017
MD, Future Games of London
Ian Harper embarked on his games development career by programming simple titles on the BBC Micro at just nine years old, eventually making a series of 2D shoot-’em-ups during his teenage years.
“My dream was to get on the cover disk of Amiga Format like Worms did, which was how that game was originally discovered,” he says.
Inspired by John Carmack and Doom, Harper learned graphics programming and obtained a job at Codemasters. Following a string of positions, he co-founded Future Games of London, the studio behind the Hungry Shark series. The first game alone has more than 350m downloads, and the company was acquired by Ubisoft in 2013.
“Nobody can make you sell your business – it’s got to be something you want to do,” he says. “If you want to remain at the company after the acquisition, picking the right partner is key. Understand why they are interested in you and make sure that your long-term goals are aligned.
“With Ubisoft’s help, we’ve been able to grow our business significantly in China and put our games on many new platforms. Our headcount has doubled in three years, something that we didn’t have the financial ability to do before. Ubisoft has a great track record of creative freedom and supporting its studios after acquisition. Too often developers are closed a few years after being acquired.”
CEO, Space Ape Games
The rise of games-as-a-service paved the way for new players such as Space Ape co-founder John Earner, who says changes to the market “created an opportunity for people like me with no experience but a lot of passion to enter the video games industry.”
He continues: “It took a lot of luck. I applied for a junior marketing role at EA in 2005 and couldn’t get an interview. By 2010, I was running a studio there via Playfish. That’s more a story about a changing landscape than about me. But when things are new, no one has experience in them. Did I mention luck?”
Space Ape is one of the UK’s most successful mobile studios thanks to hits such as Samurai Siege and Rival Kingdoms – but surely it can’t compare to Earner’s previous career, chasing smugglers as part of the US Navy?
“Games are way better and, on most days, more exciting,” he says. “My years in the navy were the most rewarding of my career but I would never go back. The military has an amazing ability to give you drudgery and stress at the same time. But there were also a few exciting and rewarding moments, and some of the best people you will ever meet.
“Oh, and jumpsuits. You just pull them on and you’re done dressing.”
Partnership Manager, Apple
David Currall has worked at Apple since 1998, initially in account management, but it’s his role in the last decade that has had the biggest impact upon the mobile games sector.
As a partnership manager at the iOS firm, he has been invaluable in helping devs get their mobile games on the App Store and finding an audience - something that’s easier said than done.
In 1999, Riccardo Zacconi joined Swedish online messaging start-up Spray. It was there where he met his fellow King co-founders Sebastian Knutsson and Thomas Hartwig. In 2003, just two years after the Italian businessmen moved to the UK, the group formed one of the world’s biggest mobile games companies.
King is best known for Candy Crush Saga and its sister games, which have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. King has well over 1,000 employees and last year it was acquired by Activision for $5.9bn.
“I’m often amazed by our diverse and vast network of players,” he says.
“Our players wouldn’t necessarily define themselves as gamers. The games are easy to learn, can be played over short periods but are still challenging and engaging. Making games this accessible is something the games industry should always continue to improve on.”
Commercial Director, Fireproof Studios
Fireproof was formed in 2008 by six friends who had worked on the Burnout series at Criterion Games - including Barry Meade.
He began his career making health-based education games in Dublin, before moving to Guildford in 1994 to join Bullfrog as an animator.
Meade is most “proud/smug” at what Fireproof has achieved. The firm’s The Room franchise on mobile has sold almost 12m copies, and picked up numerous awards.
“A lot has changed since going independent,” says Meade.
“Some things are better, some are worse. We’ve come a long way in terms of the infrastructure to support development. There are so many publishing routes. But creatively the industry has lost the will to experiment, at least on mobile. Now it’s all very knowing, too-clever-by-half but distinctly average.
“Data has emboldened a lot of dull thinking, so now giving the audience what they already know is seen as pioneering. So if you’re driven by the urge to make something new you’ll have uncomfortable meetings. But regardless of our industry’s faults, audiences continue to want excitement. That’s all a developer needs to know.”
Peter Molyneux is best known for iconic games like Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Black & White and Fable.
He describes the origins of his career as “a convoluted mix of luck and passion.” It began when Commodore sent his company (Taurus) free development machines, and he didn’t correct the mistake.
His friend Andrew Bailey asked him to convert his title Druid II to the Amiga, teaching Molyneux the essentials of making a game.
He initially founded Bullfrog (sold to EA), then Lionhead (sold to Microsoft) and in 2012 he formed his current studio 22Cans - which specialises in mobile titles.
“Mobile gave the industry a mass-market audience, and now it’s our job to make amazing entertainment,” Molyneux says.
Unable to choose his proudest achievement from his hefty games portfolio, he instead says his career highlight has been “working with so many amazing people and helping some of them to get into the industry.”
Torsten Reil formed NaturalMotion in 2001 while researching a PhD in complex systems at Oxford. His work helped the team create animation technologies Morpheme and Euphoria, which attracted the attention of Rockstar. The studio used both products in Grand Theft Auto IV, which Reil says was his “biggest inspiration in gaming by far.”
Then his team took the tech further: “When we realised the iPhone was becoming fast enough to run our technology, we started making games.”
Those games included Clumsy Ninja and mobile smash hit CSR Racing. NaturalMotion’s success led to Zynga spending $527m to acquire the studio. He has since overseen the development of CSR Racing 2 and the ambitious mobile strategy game Dawn of Titans.
“I love turning ideas into products that are played by millions,” he says. “I’m proud of every single game we’ve made. And I’m proud that we saw the opportunity in mobile gaming early enough to grow it.”
Chief Commercial Officer, Miniclip
As a Sonic fan, Saad Choudri told his mum that he would one day work for Sega. And straight out of university (in October 2007) he joined the company.
“To get the job I made sure I knew everything about the company and the industry,” he said. “Being in the legal department of Sega, I had a fantastic opportunity to engage with every other department, studio and international office, and I got to see exactly how the business worked – I call it my MBA in gaming.”
Choudri is now CCO at the successful mobile developer Miniclip. He has been involved with the firm’s majority sale to Tencent and seen the huge success of 8 Ball Pool and Agari.io. “However, my proudest moment was being honoured by the production team of Sega’s first original digital-only game Renegade Ops,” he says. “They named one of the vehicles Special Assault Artillery Destroyer or S.A.A.D.”
Outside of games, Choudri sits on the board of Wikimedia UK.
Director, PlaySport Games
Christian West’s career began while playing Half-Life and Counter-Strike online.
“I started modding Counter-Strike and found I was a terrible 3D artist,” he says. “I bought a programming book and took a year out after school to learn code.”
Starting a games development degree in 2003, West eventually found himself working alongside Sean Murray at Kuju. Murray’s departure to form Hello Games inspired West to pursue his own success and he began saving to make Motorsport Manager, racing’s answer to Football Manager.
“I was living off my life savings,” he says. “I had quit my job and had no income whatsoever. By the end of that year most of my clothes had holes in them, I sacrificed sleep, and when the game launched I had £50 left.”
The hardship paid off. Motorsport Manager broke even within 24 hours, reaching No.1 on the App Store. This attracted Sega’s attention (the publisher of the very game that inspired West), and the Sonic creator helped release the game on PC. The result was that West could buy “new pants.”