It was the first of Kuju's studios to rebrand itself, and probably the most radical: not only tapping into the burgeoning casual market, but basing its entire identity on a fictional female. Now, one year later, how is it faring?When Kuju Brighton first morphed into Zoë Mode it’s fair to say there were a few raised eyebrows: what did it mean and in what direction was it going? But after recently celebrating its first birthday the studio has never felt better.
“Our first year as Zoë Mode has been our best yet,” enthuses studio head, Ed Daly. “We’ve signed several new projects, released Crush and Dancing with the Stars, as well as several more iterations of SingStar and EyeToy: Play.
"The key thing we were trying to achieve with the rebranding was to create our own distinct identity for the studio. Now when we talk to publishing partners, or job applicants, they are very clear on who we are.”
Indeed, all Zoë Mode’s games are infused with a lively and vibrant spirit capable of appealing to the kind of person who likes to get out a DS on a train journey but wouldn’t necessarily spend hours in the evening playing a mammoth MMO.
“Our goal is quite simply to be the best independent developer of music and party games, and we have arguably achieved that already,” adds Daly. “We are happy to release the occasional ‘experimental’ title, such as Crush, but the focus is on the social space and music and party games in particular.”
And with Brighton only an hour by train from London, this developer boasts one of the most desirable locations in the UK. While the beach may not be sandy, the sea air, great shopping and fabulous restaurants are a big draw for anyone wanting to settle down outside the big smoke.
In fact, the studio has been so successful that it’s currently relocating its 120 staff to bespoke offices in the heart of the city.
But holding on to the friendly, intimate Zoë vibe is a key consideration for Daly who encourages fellowship and idea sharing across the teams. “Last year we invited staff bands to perform at a party, and we got a line-up of five or six extremely diverse and highly entertaining acts. This was indicative of the depth of musical talent that our current and unannounced music related titles can draw upon.”
With five titles in full production, including some based on ‘massive IP’, Zoë Mode is now looking to collaborate with Kuju’s latest studio based in San Francisco. Never afraid to try new methods and ideas, it’s clear that this UK studio not only has an impeccable reputation for brilliant games but is capable of dancing to its own tune.
THE SCIENCE OF FUN
To increase the flow of ideas and encourage team-building and cooperation Zoë Mode created a department known as The Lab.
The idea is that staff members can take a few weeks out of their schedules and spend time brainstorming ideas, prototyping and essentially coming up with fun, innovative games that buck the trend.
Cosseted away from the normal pressures of milestones and crunches, anyone from a department head to the junior programmer can come up with a game concept and see if they can make it workable within a very short timeframe, sometimes as little as two weeks.
Although this sounds like a tough ask, Daly believes The Lab is not only fun but fruitful. “We’ve found that when everyone is focused on their own projects, creating new ideas and pitching projects for the future can get neglected. We started up The Lab so that we were constantly innovating and thinking to the future.
"The Lab has a rotating membership of team members working on their own new ideas. This ensures everyone is involved in the future direction of the studio. We’ve had some great ideas come out of the Lab in the last year, some of which will go into production as teams become available later this year.”