The UK games industry can be contrary at the best of times and right now, in the face of Brexit uncertainty, it’s contradicting even the most optimistic of analysts.
The vote to leave the EU saw some countries threaten to pull support from Britain. It saw the pound plunge, share prices tumble and businesses consider relocating to mainland Europe.
In the games industry, however, investors from China have spent a combined $450m on UK-based Jagex and Splash Damage, Team17 has attracted £16.5m in investment, Endemol has opened a UK studio, Gram Games is doing the same and now, this week, Icelandic powerhouse CCP is moving its management to London and building a new development team, too.
“We wished [Brexit] would not have happened the way it has, and I am curious to know exactly what the plan is,” admits CCP boss Hilmar Veigar Pétursson.
“But being from Iceland [which is not formally part of the EU], we are used to chaos on this front. But I look forward to hearing what the actual plan is.”
Despite being disappointed with the Brexit decision, Pétursson insists London remained the best choice for the Eve Online creators.
“I’ve now been running the company from Iceland since 2000 - for 16 years - and that has been fine,” he tells us. “It has involved a lot of travelling, especially as we have opened up offices around the world, and doing quite a bit of activity on the VR side.
“The idea is to move the management of the company so it’s closer to all of the offices. We have an office in Newcastle, Shanghai, Atlanta and, obviously, on-going operations in Iceland. The idea is to centralise the management of the company here, in London, with easy access to all the other offices. We are also going to have a small development team here, and we’re trying to reach the London-based game development talent pool - other locations aren’t as known for their massive game development talent pools. London is a happening place, there’s a lot going on here, a lot of our partners are based here – Facebook, Sony, Microsoft – and that’s kind of the vision for this office.”
London has been pro-active in trying to encourage developers to set up businesses within its boundaries, but it is facing stiff competition from other attractive locations – such as Helsinki and Berlin, which both boast of having an abundance of creative talent.
“London is bigger, longer-standing, it is English-speaking,” continues Pétursson. “It has had a good status for a long time and that won’t easily go away. Whereas Berlin and Helsinki are definitely sputniks in this, they’re only recently on the up. Also, just logistics wise, because we already have invested in the UK [with its Newcastle studio], it made a lot of sense to set up here. There is extremely easy logistics when it comes to traveling between Iceland and London - and Iceland is still home to our biggest office.”
CCP’s management team will now operate entirely out of the UK, although the firm was at pains to tell us that the official HQ remains in Iceland – at least until it has better visibility on the UK Government’s Brexit strategy.
In total the company is aiming for around 40 employees to be based in the capital.
“We can probably stretch a bit beyond that,” continues Pétursson. “We are currently moving the management and some of the global functions to London - relating to things like marketing and PR, those sort of things. We are in the process of starting up a small game development team. So if everything goes super well and super fast, we might be at 40 people by the end of the year. Yet that’s not a goal in of itself, we want this to come about the right way, and it will move along at a natural pace.”
The development team will, Pétursson cagily tells us, be making ‘CCP games’.
“It is too early for us to talk about it. It could be VR, it could be PC, it could be AR, it might be mobile. We’re not really talking about that right now.”
Based on the number of employees the office can hold, we suggested that the team might be focused on making smaller projects.
“It will be a small team, but a small team can make a big game,” says Pétursson dismissively. “It wasn’t a big team that made Eve Online, the whole company was only 30 people when we made that game. Eve Online is arguably one of the biggest games ever made. It is going to be a small team, but that is not a limitation on our ambition. There are lots of ways to make super interesting games with small teams today.”
However, the firm is very much keeping its mind open in regards to what its new UK outfit will go on to create.
“Adding another studio to the group will add an interesting mix to what we already have,” concludes Pétursson. “We are already doing lots of really exciting things in the VR arena with Eve Valkyrie in Iceland, then there’s Eve Online of course, Gunjack and Project Nova... we are now adding to that mix. We are in this exploration phase, doing a lot of prototyping and experimentation. I hope being based here in London, with easy access to the talent available here, will allow some of these experiments to come to fruition faster, better and bigger.”