A chat with Codemasters Studios VP and GM Gavin Cheshire
After its Grand Prix win at the Develop Awards, Ed Fear pinned down Codemasters Studios’ vice president and general manager Gavin Cheshire to discuss the firm’s successes, its acquisitions plan, surviving in the recession and European development strategy…
Congratulations on the Grand Prix win – we feel that it encompasses Codemasters’ achievements and dedication to UK and European development, both internally and externally, over the past couple of years. If you had to pick some particular achievements from the last five years, what are you are most proud of?
We’re all very honoured to receive the award. It’s been a lot of hard work and effort for everyone at Codemasters.
I guess our greatest achievement has been reinventing our business to take advantage of the ever changing landscape that is development today. With DiRT, GRID and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising we’ve turned tired IPs into multi-award winning, reinvigorated and successful franchises. With the EGO Engine, we’ve created an award-winning, multi genre, multi format technology. We’ve grown our business and continued to attract the best and the brightest and after all that, we’re still here, 23 years later.
Your Guildford studio is working on not one but two new IPs, at a time when many people are cautious of such risks – do you think that commitment to new franchises is important at times like this?
Codemasters has always been about great games and great IP, so nothing has really changed on that front. IP is our life blood and if we’re sensible about how we approach that we can be successful.
Operation Flashpoint has seen its fair share of delays in order to perfect it – is that something that you’re not afraid to do to make sure the games are released when they’re ready?
The hardest thing to do in the current climate is to miss a street date, but everyone has to face it every now and again. Not getting Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising right is worse though: the franchise is incredibly strong and we wanted to make sure it started right and could grow in the future.
Codemasters recently acquired Swordfish Studios – how does that sit within the organisation? What in particular attracted the company to the studio?
Swordfish is a strong, well run team with solid pedigree. They have been capable of turning their hands to almost anything and creating solid results. What we did was look at where we could take a studio like that over time, so we’ve added our technology into the mix and started with a solid IP. They have a real burning desire and their location worked for us.
You’ve been growing your internal development efforts, through the purchase of Swordfish and expansion in Guildford – do you see that as being more important to you than external development?
Any kind of development, whether internal or external, is always a challenge. We have greater control over every detail internally than we can ever do externally, but there are only so many internal teams you can have. What we’re doing is getting the balance right. External development is still important to our business and we continue to look for the best development talent we can find.
EGO was a huge investment for you – is it paying off yet?
There are many ways to look at this one. I guess on the one hand we’ve won countless awards and accolades for the games that use it and for the technology itself. On the other hand it allows us to be as good as we can be. There will always be limits if you have to rely on someone else’s technology and supply thereof. We can’t afford to be limited if want to compete.
Sumo are helping with the development of F1 ‘09 whereas ‘10 is being developed in-house – is there any collaboration? Is this alternate release pattern something you plan to continue?
When we took on the Formula One license, we were clear that we would not compromise our desire to create the very best game we could. The F1 games of late were getting a bit tired and we knew we could do better. What we couldn’t do is turn one around in 12 months. So we’ve created a plan using Sumo’s very excellent and talented development teams to help us provide a route to getting a great F1 2009 season game on Wii and PSP, followed in the 2010 season with PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Our teams have provided input into this season’s game at various levels and over time we can grow the franchise both in the amount of formats and the scope of the game. The ideas are endless. What we do end up with though is a game for next year developed from our internal teams that will have had a lot longer than 12 months in development.
How have you reacted to the recession in terms of development – are you finding yourself more frugal on hiring new staff, for example?
We’re not immune to the issues affecting the rest of the world right now. We’ve made some small scale restructures within our group as a whole but generally our development side is unaffected. That’s not to say we’re not being more cautious, though – I can pretty much rule out any more acquisitions for the foreseeable.
Are there things about the organisation of Codemasters that you feel makes you strong in the recession?
Some of the most talented and creatively brilliant development teams in the world. You can do anything well if you have great people around you.
What do you hope the studio can achieve in the next five years?
Grow our current and future franchises to extraordinary heights.
You’ve got your own outsourcing operation in Malaysia. Are you finding that having your own operation out there is more efficient, if a big investment?
It’s been a profitable entity in its own right since we started, so it’s actually very cost efficient for us. It’s also provided us with a finance capability for our developments as well as allowing us to train and grow our own talent for our own games. With little or no gaming experience in Malaysia, Codemasters has done a great deal in that region to change that perception and we’ve also moved on now from art to programming as well. All of it takes time, however, and lots of work from both the UK and Kuala Lumpur teams.
Would you ever consider letting that studio develop its own projects?
In the long term, the answer is definitely yes. But again, we’d have to grow it slowly and get the experience right.