Aardvark Swift Spotlight: Dovetail Games

Aardvark Swift caught up with Dovetail’s chief development officer Rob O’Farrell and senior talent& CSR executive Fiona Turner-Stone in order to discuss their ever-expanding simulation worlds and the intricacies of translating hobbies into authentic and true-to-life digital experiences.

After EA’s release of Rail Simulator in 2007, chairman Paul Jackson OBE broke away to incorporate the company now known as Dovetail Games, in turn taking guardianship of the title and the RailSim engine; releasing bug fixes, DLC, and continuous support. What followed was a spiritual successor, Train Simulator. What has since become the backbone of the company, Dovetail has continued to build upon the foundations of the original game with continual major and minor updates. “We’ve been operating as a company for over 14 years now”, mentions Rob O’Farrell. “Since those beginnings, we’ve moved into developing in the Unreal Engine, released an extensive library of over 800 pieces of content, and developed completely new franchises.”

In 2015, Dovetail cast their efforts wider to a new IP and their first departure from the train simulation world with their fishing sim title, Euro Fishing. “We started with a small carp fishing demo, emulating a small lake just outside our office, simply as an experiment of gaining a grasp of Unreal Engine 4,” says Rob. “Not only did we learn so much about the engine for our train simulators, but we actually discovered the potential to expand this small project into the fully developed title we released.”

Over the course of the last 14 years, the studio has seen accolades that include their train simulations being run over 289 million times and more than 145 million digital fish being caught; testaments to the level of meticulosity put into the development of a Dovetail simulation. “I think we try to understand what the hobbyist and the player wants,” Rob says. “There’s so many factors to consider in balancing realism with entertainment. Certain locomotives take 45 minutes to start. You can go fishing for a full day and not catch a thing. Our task is to give users an entertaining experience without compromising the core authenticity of the hobby.”

Dovetail goes to all lengths to create their worlds to the highest possible standard. “We start with analysing the google data, real-time data, and maps of a route or location, as well as videos of trains on the line”, explains Rob. “We accumulate all crucial details for that line to immerse our players; the London to Brighton line, for example, goes through East Croydon and past Battersea power station, as well as having over 2000 signals on that line. The same goes with fishing and getting the right effects of fishing tackle and lake conditions. It’s crucial to us that we get these factors as true to life as possible for our users to be fully immersed and maintain a suspension of disbelief.”

Dovetail has an expanding workforce to accommodate the scope of these ambitions. Comprising over 180 people, staff well-being is of utmost importance for them, and a major consideration in their studio culture and policies. “We have a huge focus on the well-being of staff”, says Senior Talent & CSR Executive Fiona Turner-Stone. “We have a very good team of mental health first aiders, we want everybody to bring their true selves to work, and we want them to feel safe in the workplace.” Rob continues: “Our staff are crucial to our success. Everyone makes a difference when they come and work here, in development, publishing, retail, finance. Everyone makes a difference.”

You can listen to Aardvark Swift’s full conversation with Dovetail’s Rob O’Farrell and Fiona Turner-Stone through the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, third-party apps, and the aswift.com website.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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