Concluding Develop's focus on the Yorkshire development community, we bring you the first of five profiles on key studios in the region.
130, plus 50 in India
Sega Superstars Tennis, Virtua Tennis 3, Outrun 2, Broken Sword 4, New International Track & Field
Currently working on:
OutRun Live Arcade, Virtua Tennis 2009
Formed after Infrogrames shut down its Sheffield development office in 2003, Sumo has grown from 12 people at one site to 130 staff based in its Sheffield office with a further 50 at its second facility in Punan, India.
Originally working on non-game projects, the studio built its own 3D engine and was then working with Codemasters and Microsoft on the online component for England International Football. The experience, combined with having worked with BT on its Wireplay gaming service back in 1996, gave them an edge on the rapidly-burgeoning online sector. It attracted the attention of Sega, who it then asked if it could work on Outrun 2, and a long running relationship – which continues to this day – was born.
“As far as platforms go, we’re working on every console platform going,” says Carl Cavers, head of the European arm of Foundation 9, the studio network that purchased Sumo in 2007. “The only thing we’re not doing is iPhone. We’ve got the tech to do it, but we’re not just going to do a game for the sake of it – but if it’s part of a set of SKUs for a project then we’ll do it.
Sumo is perhaps best known for its work on Sega’s properties – it was the first (and only) Western developer to be entrusted with the Outrun and Virtua Tennis series, and then ransacking its rich character back catalogue for Sega Superstars Tennis.
“We’re still working with the same people we’ve been working with for the past few years,” Cavers continues. “We’ve worked really hard to keep and maintain our relationships with clients – we think it’s much easier to keep a client than to make a new one. So we go above and beyond to keep them happy.
“For example, we don’t have a long-running contract with Sega – it’s new projects. We’re only as good as the last thing we do with them. So we have to make sure that’s a good impression, so we deliver what we promised to, and make sure they have a good experience. It’s not just about the game. That’s something we work really hard on. You know, you hear loads of times that people say ‘it was an absolute nightmare to work with this developer, but it was a great product at the end’. We want both to be good.”
The thing that Sumo prides itself on is transparency to clients, which is how it manages to encourage repeat business from publishers as diverse as Konami and Codemasters. ”Every publisher is different, so we give them exactly what they want, and every iteration of the design we’ll sit down and discuss it with them if that’s the way they want to do it,” explains ‘design overlord’ Sean Millard. “Konami and Sega, for example, were very involved on a weekly basis in design, and they had very very clear ideas of what they wanted, whereas Codemasters were a little bit more hands-off.”
Although it might not have deliberately become the UK’s chief IP reinvention house, it’s certainly a situation the studio is happy with, says studio head Paul Porter: “We’ve become good at taking people’s properties and shaping them in different ways. It’s great, we love doing that. A lot of us here go way back, and we all share those rose-tinted glasses about games of old, the eighties and early nineties. We’ll jump at any chance we have to reinvent or reinvigorate classics!”