We take a trip to Sheffield to speak with Kuju's rebranded studio Chemistry - which boasts a unique business and technology model: all its games are built using Unreal Engine 3…
Formerly Kuju Sheffield, Chemistry’s foundations lie on the belief that studios can no longer be Jack Of All trades, and that specialisation is the key to being a successful developer.
Their chosen specialism is in Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 – arguably the most popular third-party engine in the market today – and it’s this focus that puts the studio in a position to make the best out of the contemporary game market.
“Our strategic decision was to go with Unreal Engine 3 as a platform, as that gives us numerous opportunities - it’s next-gen, and it allows us to do bigger and better projects - it means we can have multiple next-gen products in the pipeline at once,” says studio head Simeon Pashley.
The major benefit of using Epic’s technology at the studio is that publishers instantly benefit from a reduction in risk, adds managing director Mike Cox.
“When we were setting up Chemistry, we talked to publishers, and what we saw was that they all wanted minimal risk development – they’re happy to spend a pile of money on content, but not so much on tech. We thought that by going with UE3 it would take away a lot of the risk involved with building bespoke technology.”
And it’s an experiment that has worked just as intended, with the studio saying that publishers have responded ‘beautifully’ to the idea.
But Chemistry’s key element is not that it solely uses Unreal Engine 3, but that it strives to add to the engine.
“We’ve purposefully set out to be Unreal Engine specialists, but not just to churn out another first-person shooter – it’s what we do different with UE3 that’s important to us,” explains Pashley.
Cox agrees, adding: “Unreal is great as a base platform, but if you’re going to make truly innovative next-gen stuff you have to add value in lots of different areas.”
And the way the studio intends to do that is with its ‘labs’, concentrated strike teams dedicated to enhancing aspects of the Unreal Engine to improve what’s already there, and then use those improvements not only in their own games but in other developers’ titles too.
“These labs create formulas, and it’s these that are the solutions that we can use in the future. The first lab that we’ve set up is the AI lab, and those guys are purely focusing on creating amazing AI solutions.
“They could be things that we use for just one game, or they could be things that we package and sell to other developers.”
But it’s not just in terms of technology that the studio is on the cutting edge - it has also structured itself heavily around a distributed model, cherry-picking the best outsource talent to augment its production capabilities. “We do a tremendous amount of art outsourcing,” says Pashley, “And we’ve got other people in the other Kuju studios helping us out, too.”
It’s this collaboration, selective outsourcing and dedication to furthering the technology that it has licenced which places Chemistry at the frontlines of the industry, a chemical reaction to the changing development market that many may soon find themselves following.