The Sheffield-based developer has produced triple-A titles in some world-renowned franchises, but still feels like it is “the UK’s best-kept secret”. We find out more about the studio’s rise from ‘port-plusses’ to its new blockbuster titles
Founded in 2003, Sumo Digital started out like many developers: a small band of people passionate about games, operating on a work-for-hire basis and taking whatever projects they could find.
Twelve years later, it has grown exponentially, is working on some of the world’s most beloved games IP and is on the verge of opening a third studio. Yet, the firm faces something of an identity crisis.
“Most people are familiar with our work, as in the games themselves, but they may not realise that Sumo created them,” explains co-founder and director Darren Mills. “When we talk to people about Outrun 2, our Sonic Racing and Tennis titles, and LittleBigPlanet 3, the reply that usually comes back is: ‘Oh, they were awesome games – I didn’t realise that was you’.
“In the past we’ve been comfortable with that, but this last year we’ve begun to turn it around. There’s a community out there that knows us and is interested in what we do, so we’re working hard to engage with them and, in turn, promote both Sumo and the titles we’ll be releasing in the future.”
The team has come a long way since those early work-for-hire days, but one constant is the trust placed in them when it comes to triple-A franchises.
Mills says: “A lot of our early work was taking existing franchises and game worlds and adding a twist. As we grew, the games got bigger and moved from ‘port-plusses’ – as we used to call them in-house – to new, totally original titles.
“We’ve always worked with strong IP. Our current work on huge brands like Crackdown and Disney Infinity attests to the trust that IP holders of massive franchises are willing to put in Sumo.”
GOING IT ALONE
Sumo was previously owned by US firm Foundation 9 Entertainment but last year completed a management buyout to become fully independent. This, Mills says, was the first tough chapter in the new era of Sumo Digital.
“Extracting ourselves from a US-centric organisation was no small task,” he says. “That, along with getting on track with new strategic objectives like a second UK studio, starting an engineering team in our India location, a long overdue update of the Sumo brand and a couple of other exciting internal initiatives, has been a huge undertaking.
“We’re 12 months into our new ‘life’ and it’s been a demanding, hectic but exhilarating year.”
And 2016 is set to be just as busy, with the long-awaited opening of that second UK studio.
Having established a branch in India back in 2007, Sumo is finally ready to open the doors to its third outfit – and its keen for the new team to complement the original.
“Our new UK location will work alongside the Sheffield studio in much the same way our Indian one does,” says Mills.
“However, the new studio will also give us the opportunity to expand our expertise and competencies into several new areas without distracting us from our core business.
“We want our culture to pour over into the new studio as it has done in India. We carry many of the same internal traditions there as we do in Sheffield, Sumo has to be a fun place to work, and we work hard to make it that way.”
Mills describes the staff as “the most important part of Sumo”, highlighting them as the reason for its success and observing that new hires often stay longer than they might at other studios. In fact, most of the original people that guided Sumo through its first six months are still part of the team.
“And we’ve been expanding ever since,” adds Mills. “It’s been a constant for us pretty much since 2003. We’ll continue to grow to match opportunities and build on our core skills and competencies.
“We have to attract the best staff, but being the best-kept secret in the UK games scene is not going to help with that, so we’re working hard to get the message out there about the studio and the work we do.”
Find out more at www.sumo-digital.com.