Survivors of the Sega Racing Studio

Survivors of the Sega Racing Studio

By Rob Crossley

June 17th 2011 at 11:00AM

Six developers from the defunct studio head up its spiritual successor - and Sega if fully behind the group

Sega Racing Studio’s demise was, for some, the canary in the mine. The publisher made its shock decision to axe the studio in 2008 – a mere three years after it had formed – in a move that impacted on more than sixty jobs.

Across the next three years some of the biggest UK game developers collapsed under financial strain. Free Radical Design, Realtime Worlds and Bizarre Creations were just three of many talented and successful British studios that, surprisingly, could no longer run as a going concern.

If Sega Racing Studio’s collapse was indeed a foretoken of three bitter years for the UK dev scene, its spiritual resurrection – announced today – is perhaps another sign of Britain’s return to strength.

The Solihull-based studio is reborn in all but name. Six survivors from the original outfit now head-up the studio, but will no longer focus on the racing genre. Instead the group will build more nimble projects for platforms such as handhelds and perhaps even mobile devices. 15 development vacancies are open.

Sega West’s production boss Gary Dunn explains to Develop how the studio was rebuilt, and outlines his hopes for its future.

Explain more about how Sega rebuilt its Solihull-based studio.

GARY DUNN: Sure, so I’m sure you know about Sega Racing Studio closing down in 2008 and being sold to Codemasters.

What wasn’t reported on was Sega kept six of its brightest minds from that studio to form what was known as the Sega Technology Group. The name’s a tad misleading, as it is artists and designers as well as programmers.

That team has been used internationally to support Sega studios on technical work – and these guys know their tech very well. They have worked with new hardware like 3DS, PS Vita, Kinect, Move and Wii U.

We think the best way to understand the new hardware is to build concepts for it, so the Technology Group has, for a number of months, been building concepts for a number of platforms.

But, one of the concepts we were so blown away by, we decided to green-light it. It’s going to be a PS Vita game that absolutely uses many features of the hardware to the max, and gives you some truly innovative gaming opportunities not seen before.

I personally wouldn’t want to put this project under a genre of any kind.

And, thinking about who would develop this prototype into a game, we looked at some external options and thought, you know what, the best place to make this is at the Technology Group. And suddenly, putting a production team next to this technology group began to make a lot of sense.

Will the technology team at Sega’s new studio reamain focused on new hardware?

The way it’s going to work is the technology group are going to form as the founding members of the studio, and over the next two months as we build up the team; those technology group members will refocus on engines, tools, tech and prototypes.

How many staff are you looking for?

We want to build the studio up for 15 game developers, on top of the six in the technology group. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but Sega has a big network of contractor staff as well who can be very useful.

In terms of hiring more, that really depends on where our project ends. The new studio’s project is being built for PlayStation Vita, so we might need more staff if the game moves to other systems.

Why invest in the UK when the likes of Activision and THQ are pulling investment away from Britain?

The thing is, in most of these cases the studios closing down are quite large. Bizarre Creations was a behemoth of a studio.

We’re looking to be an agile, modern studio focusing on new platforms. Our new studio could very much end up working on mobile and tablet devices. Our plan is to be innovative as well as agile.

The grand plan was to co-locate this studio with the technology group, so when new tech comes this production team is able to jump on it easily.

Sega now has three UK studios, will it look for more?

If the right opportunity comes along we will push further. But those opportunities tend to be rare. A lot of great studios are unrealistically priced and a lot of reasonably-priced studios don’t offer much opportunity.

If we find a studio with that sweet-spot, we will absolutely be going after that opportunity very aggressively.

Is it fair to say being operationally flexible and cost-effective is essential for establishing a new studio in the UK?

I think that’s absolutely the case. It’d take a brave soul to start up a 100-man studio at the moment, because the risk is so high.

I think the days of the great big teams are going to be limited. The UK industry’s going to have smaller startups from now on, I would say.

Moving onto a different topic, as the VP of production, how are Sega developers taking to Wii U?

The technology group is very excited by it, but it’s a bit too early to say where we are at the moment. Our experience with it at the moment is that a lot of things are falling into place, in terms of how easy the machine is to develop for.

For the Wii U, developers want the same as they want for all consoles – good tools, the ability to create agile prototypes, and lots of third-party tech support. The Wii U is delivering on that.