Looking back on 2009, Codemasters had a bit of a rough start to the year before Ashes and Dirt 2 helped turn things around…
Jeremy Wigmore: I think that’s a fair assessment. We had a difficult first half of the year because of the products that we didn’t have. But we always knew that we had Ashes, Flashpoint, Dirt 2 and F1 towards the latter half of the year, and we were gearing towards that.
Hayley Holland: In terms of strategy we shifted our focus towards our internally-developed titles. We are still going to have some externally developed products as well, but as a business we decided we had to slow down and take our time.
Ashes came out just before Dirt 2, and went straight to No.1. Were you worried that the game’s delay [it didn’t arrive until mid-way through the series] was going to hurt sales of the title?
JW: We were quite comfortable when it came out. The country was on an up because of how the series was going and it turned out we had released the game at the ideal time. Ashes Cricket 2009 came out when the country was on a peak. Sometimes in life things happen in sync that you don’t necessarily plan for but works out well in the end. If the game had come out after the series, that would have been a different matter.
What about Operation Flashpoint? That game must have been an expensive project, was delayed several times, and didn’t arrive until weeks before Modern Warfare 2. Were you concerned about how the title was going to perform?
JW: I can’t comment on development costs. But at the end of the day everybody knew that Modern Warfare was going to do what it was going to do. The difference between Flashpoint and Modern Warfare was that Flashpoint was more strategic and more real war. There are so many FPSes in the market place that no matter when you release it you are going to come up against something.
To be honest, we were extremely pleased to be out before Modern Warfare 2 and we enjoyed consistent sell-through all the way to Christmas.
HH: From a marketing position we weren’t trying to compete with Modern Warfare. We set out to be unashamedly hardcore, and it worked.
Codemasters’ final game of 2009 was F1, which came out on two of the hardest platforms to succeed on – PSP and Wii. How did they do?
JW: I was quoted in MCV saying that I was ‘gobsmacked’ by the quality of F1 2009, and I said to retail that this was going to sell. And it did.
Retail didn’t believe it would get to where we said it would, but it didn’t just reach our expectations, it exceeded them. We’ve spent 17 weeks in the Wii Top 10. We had terrific support from Nintendo, but for a third party title to spend that much time in the Top 10 just goes to show the quality of that game.
The strategy for that product was to deliberately make a serious game for Wii, and not another big-head racer.
So what learnings have you taken from the success of Ashes, Dirt 2, Flashpoint and F1 that you will try and replicate this year?
JW: I think moving F1 to next-gen formats is the right decision. What we learnt from doing Dirt 2 on Wii is that there is definitely a cannibalisation of a certain type of product on that platform.
The strategy of fewer products at a higher quality is the right strategy for Codemasters. Everything we are doing company-wise is geared towards that.
International Cricket 2010 is out this summer but there’s no Ashes series. Are you confident the product can still deliver numbers?
JW: It is a challenge. But this year we are focussing on the quicker cricket games – the 20/20 and one-dayers. What we are delivering is a quality cricket product with a new angle. We are committed to cricket fans.
HH: We’ve also got the football World Cup this year, which means football is going to get a lot of attention. But at the same time that’s going to get a lot of people interested in sport as well.
JW: We are the alternative to football. Bored with the World Cup? Play cricket.
F1 2010 is your big game of the year. Can we expect a big marketing push for that release?
HH: Yeah, totally. We are planning the campaign now. We are working with the platform holders and globally we expect to make quite a mark with this game. F1 2010 is what consumers want and we need to make sure that we showcase what a great game we have before it arrives.
The next major release after F1 is Bodycount in early 2011. Why do a first person shooter in what is such a congested market place?
HH: Why not? We are applying the quality we have achieved in our racing games to other genres. We did it with Flashpoint, so why not keep doing it?
Flashpoint was a successful FPS, but go back a little further and Codemasters released Turning Point: Fall of Man, which didn’t do well at all. What makes you feel Bodycount will be different?
JW: If you go back to Turning Point and Rise of the Argonauts, these weren’t Codemasters games. They came from external sources. We have the quality in our own studios to deliver great games. There are only so many genres out there. If these guys feel that they can create a quality FPS, then let’s let them make one.
It is about fostering our own talent and also keeping things in-house so we can have more control over the game and deliver the right messages about them.
HH: That doesn’t mean we are going to reject external development, but we will cherry pick the right games. What we do now is benchmark the quality of the external products against what we are doing internally.
What about Dirt and Race Driver: GRID. When can we expect to hear more about the next entrees in these franchises?
HH: Keep talking to us. These brands are evolving internally all the time and when we have something to say we’ll be in touch to talk about them.
With the sale of Eidos last year, Codemasters became the last big British games publisher. What are your thoughts on the publishing sector in the UK?
JW: It is tough. Everybody knows it takes a long-time to create a quality game, and that’s what we are trying to create. Everybody is having a difficult time with the worldwide recession. But the games industry as a whole is still vibrant and obviously has a tremendous amount of appeal.
The success of Codemasters is testament to what people believe in. We are extremely proud of being British and we will keep striving to deliver quality products.
HH: There is a huge amount of pride working for a UK company. And there is just so much talent at Codemasters. We just need to make sure we protect and grow that.