Britain' got talent

After Square Enix’s purchase of Eidos in April, the once almighty Britsoft community is all but dead – with the proud exception of Codemasters. We caught up with the global boss of the firm to talk about the UK industry and the publisher’s slate of new titles.

You’re putting your biggest ever marketing campaign behind Operation Flashpoint. Why did you pick this title for special treatment?
It has been a long time coming and is in great demand – as the gaming sites and magazines will testify. This is backed up by our internal fan base, CodeM, which has more than two million users. It is a game from our internal studios using our proprietary EGO technology, the same technology that powers our racing content. Dragon Rising proves that EGO is multi-genre, multi-platform and stands for quality. It is a flagship franchise for the company and will
have an ongoing DLC support programme in 2010.

How strong is Codemasters’ line-up for 2009 compared to previous years?

The slate in the calendar year is the strongest in the company’s history. Overlord 2 and Minions, Cricket: The Ashes, then look out for Dirt 2 and of course, Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising. On top of that, we will release our first Formula One game too. Our activity in the MMO space will be enhanced with the release of Jumpgate.
We’re not complacent, and we’re respectful of our competitors – but we also believe we will take some beating in certain segments and that is something that our employees should take pride in.

Success on Wii and DS hasn’t come easily. How can you remedy this?
Nintendo benefits from broad support, as demonstrated by the offerings piling into it. The typical demographic is well served – and it could be said is spoilt for choice. Our research suggests we should move beyond that and appeal to an older element with our game design, but target the family as a whole.

Over the coming months you will see us publish Overlord Dark Legend, Cricket 09, Dirt 2 and Formula One for the Wii, while the DS will be supported with Minions and Dragonology. Our presence may well increase as a consequence. We pick our bets.

As the last major British publisher, do you believe we are we still a world leader in development terms?
The UK continues to be a creative force. The best-selling game of 2008 came out the UK. I view that as a good indicator.

The fact is recognised in recent M&A activity, where foreign companies have invested in UK companies to broaden their global offering. The movement in foreign exchange rates has had some influence on that and the UK can now regard itself as a cost-effective location where creativity flourishes. But the future is digital and that means global access for the talent – wherever it resides.

Should we consider Codemasters the world’s racing games specialist?
It remains a significant segment. We know it, understand it and we can grow share. We alternate the Dirt and Grid franchises to avoid compromising quality and we annualise Formula One. That makes for a compelling strategy.

There is always competition and most publishers include a driving game in their portfolio, but they will have to go some way to beat us – even those with pedigree.
It’s in our company’s DNA and we’re fiercely proud of that – but it’s not the only thing we’re all about.

You’ve had quite a reshuffle recently, with Jeremy Wigmore, Alex Bertie, Jon Tibble and more coming in. What would you say this new team brings to Codemasters?
By assembling this layer of talent, we punch above our weight and it says a lot about where we are going. We are preparing for the future and for seamless management succession. They know what they want and how to get there.

Do you feel like Xbox 360 and PS3 are now reaching a respectable installed base?
These platforms are continuing to grow and with further anticipated hardware price cuts and added value propositions there is no reason why that growth cannot accelerate at the back end of this year. Nintendo’s projections are also impressive and then of course, the mobile devices are gathering momentum. Online communities are also growing in various forms. The consumer has more choice than ever.

Does being a major company in today’s climate make it easier or harder to survive the recession?
It is a challenging environment for all. Clearly resources, particularly financial strength, mean such companies are better placed than most to weather the storm – but they also contend with the overhead structure which can add significant drag.

Dinosaur distribution structures are no longer enviable while variable cost access is appealing, pending the shift to digital delivery. Those with the ability to invest in content creation and invite user generated content to expand the offering while also investing in the technological infrastructure are best positioned for the future.

Can you see Codemasters acquiring studios/publishers and/or major licences over the next 12 months?

I think it unlikely. We are intent on organic growth through investment in our internal studios and IP  ownership. We have ramped up our development resource in the last 12 months with the addition of a former Sega studio, the takeover of Swordfish and by opening in Guildford to extend our reach and talent pool. Around this, we have completed a new complex of some 32,000 square feet at the company’s headquarters, which is predominantly allocated to product development.

It is a significant captive development resource which makes up more than 70 per cent of our global workforce. These internal studios are all powered by EGO tech, demonstrating how scaleable it is.

What about being bought yourselves? Have you seen any interest?
I have long given up on speculating. We are intent on building value for our stakeholders and if that attracts suitors then we will deal with it at that time. We strive to attract choice and there is a lot bubbling under the surface. Hotbeds of creative talent are always in demand.

Is flotation still an ambition/possibility?
We contemplate all options but the markets are dealing with bigger issues right now. When it settles down and industry valuations return to some normality then I am sure they will be open for business for the right opportunity.

How do you think the industry can improve its image in the eyes of Government and the wider public?

The lack of attention and awareness was evident in recent UK Government propaganda on the future and readiness of the digital era – to the extent it
was tantamount to a slap in the face. The lobbying element clearly has some way to go.
One aspect we should push is the integration in education and support of worthwhile causes such as the involvement with The Paddington Academy.

The industry should showcase what it does – how it has had a positive impact on the lives of young people and in preparing them for tomorrow. Games have assisted disadvantaged young people, particularly in areas such as learning disabilities, epilepsy, meningitis, children’s hospices and blindness, while games have also brightened up the lives of quadriplegics.

In addition, the industry has supported Government initiatives that target improvement in schools and helped instances in learning and medical care. It has helped those with hardship aim high in the pursuit of sporting excellence and brought a new dimension to creative expression in the career aspirations of the young. Thankfully, Nintendo has done a lot to portray family entertainment – and that can only be a good thing.

Is retail necessarily the best route to market for a company like yours?
Retail is a partner we look to work closely with. We need to work together – and this does include secondary exploitation of games. There is a growing momentum for D2C and retail will be as interested in that. It may well be that the business model evolves to embrace it. Codemasters has the infrastructure to address the digital age.

What will be the biggest innovation in games this year?

Advances in motion controllers will stimulate games design and development. Music is another category which could expand the gaming horizon. 3D TV is also very interesting.

On top of that, user generated content is always innovative and can add value to our offerings. The development of communities allows for innovation and we are well down that path. We think we’re in a good place right now and in good shape.

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