Codemasters: Taking aim

Codemasters: Taking aim

By Stuart Richardson

July 23rd 2010 at 10:05AM

We speak to Codemasters VP of studios Gavin Cheshire and SVP of production Jamie Macdonald

It’s a cynical world sometimes. When, in early April this year, Codemasters announced that Indian multimedia company Reliance Big Entertainment had purchased a fifty per cent stake in their business, the internet lit-up with angry suspicions about the future of the Codemasters workforce.

“Interesting,” wrote one anxious reader of Develop’s online report on the deal.

“I wonder how long it will take before there is a ‘strategic’ move of development to India?”

The speculation and insinuation was not lost on Codemasters.

“We noticed that straight away – forums telling us that we were going to be packing up and moving to India,” says an almost exasperated Gavin Cheshire, Codemasters VP of studios.

“I can safely say that this is absolutely not the case. There are obviously some ‘strategic’ moves for both partners, but in terms of development at the level we’re at, it’s very much about Reliance investing in our skills and abilities over here in the UK.”

In terms of what Reliance actually are paying for, both Cheshire and recent Codies arrival Jamie Macdonald are keeping a lot under their hats. They are, however, insisting that any expansions will happen in the UK.

“We will be looking to expand in Birmingham, Southam and Guildford and building on other opportunities as and when they come along,” Cheshire enthuses.

“So no move to India. This is about building on the Codemasters that already exists.”

Codemasters has often exhibited a fearless desire to generate expansion and success. From the early multi-platform releases for its acclaimed budget series of titles, through the controversial partnership with Camerica and the release of the Game Genie and onto the confident footholds worked into North America over the past decade, the firm has thrived in the same industry scene many other studios have found untenable over the years.

The sensitive way in which it has continued to work with the lucrative Colin McRae franchise also indicates a level of maturity that many would not have attributed the Codies with, way back when.

Macdonald, current SVP of production after a successful turn at Sony, is equally enthusiastic about the potential for the firm to grow after this latest deal.

“It’s very much a good fit for both parties, which gives us the financial muscle to push on to the next level,” he says.

“We’ve got a major launch with F1 coming up in September and developed at our Birmingham studio, and we hope to draw new IP from there. Our Guildford studio is working hard on Bodycount, and we will be looking to to take that franchise further and further with the addition of more IP.

“In Southam it’s full steam ahead with the next iteration in our Flashpoint series, as well as the next Dirt and Grid. It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out.”
Cheshire also points out that a recruitment drive is now on the cards.

“We are currently in the middle of a major recruitment drive across all three of those sites. There will be major expansion in that sense over the coming year.”
This is Macdonald’s area of expertise, with his hiring of people from outside of the development industry at Sony being well documented at the time.

“The industry is now aimed at a more digitally focussed world, and I think it is incumbent upon us to look outside of it. When I was at Sony we had great success bringing people in from different digital media, so that’s a possibility,” he explains.

Of course new staff are all well and good, but Macdonald also points out that he is impressed with existing Codemasters staff, as well as staff retention.

“I have been very pleasantly surprised at the very low churn rate here at Codemasters. There is a huge wealth of talent and luckily for us they really enjoy working here.”

Outside the box
Being a major studio in 2010 dictates the necessity for working with external developers; not just as a popular method of maximising the potential of existing or new IP, but as a fundamental prerequisite in keeping up with the competition.

Gavin Cheshire is keen to mention Codemasters’ growing aims in this area.

“We are seeking young, vibrant developers in the UK and Europe to work with. Something that I have noticed of late is that there is a groundswell of new small developers in browser-based and iPhone gaming,” he says.

“I met a few of them in Dundee recently and there are a number all around the country. To build good working relations with that talent base would really give us access to great new ideas and very smart people who could be so effective here at Codemasters.”

And who could claim to be a major development player without some interesting proprietary technology to back up your games with? Codemasters’ EGO engine powers the lion’s share of the studio’s output, and Cheshire tells us that its future is assured in upcoming output.

“The next F1 will show where EGO has got to at this stage. I think people will agree that it has probably got the best weather of any game ever seen. It is very powerful, but is also in an intricate stage right now,” he explains.

“We are focused on EGO 2.0 at the moment, which will be coming in with a massive title that we can’t talk about just yet. That will really keep us cutting-edge.”

There certainly seems to be plenty for everyone at Codies to think about, but that they are planning on staying in the UK now seems certain. It just remains to be seen what exactly they do with all that new cash.

“Actually, I think we are busier now than we have ever been before,” Macdonald concludes.