Dominic Wheatley has a point to prove.
The co-founder of Eidos – the Brit firm behind hits such as Championship Manager, Hitman and Tomb Raider – departed the company after it had floated. Years of uncertainty followed, as it passed through different owners before finally being acquired by Japanese giant Square Enix.
My regret is that I left Eidos too soon,” says Wheatley.
I would have loved to have seen it remain a British publishing powerhouse, which it absolutely should and could have been.”
Wheatley's involvement in games in recent years has been as CEO of The Catalis Group, which owns work-for-hire developer Kuju and QA firm Testronic. And earlier this ?month he returned to publishing after Catalis acquired indie publisher Curve, and subsequently merged it with Kuju. Is this Britain's next Eidos?
We are not trying to recreate things from the past necessarily,” Wheatley continues, referring to a period in the 1980s and 1990s when Brit publishers such as Eidos, Ocean, Virgin and US Gold ruled the shelves.
But there isn't really a big British publisher now, and that's a shame.”
It's easy to romanticise the Curve and Kuju merger, but there is a far more practical reason to this deal than simply rejuvenating a dormant UK publishing scene.
We've often been hampered by an inability to compete with the larger companies entering the market,” says Stuart Dinsey, chairman of Curve Digital Entertainment. We have funded games here and there, but it's been at a very low level. We won't be changing Curve's ethos, but we will be looking to work with developers and partners which have, up until now, been out of our reach.
These days, many indies are no longer daunted by console development – many feel they can go it alone. The low barrier to entry is a double-edge sword, though. Whilst the talk of an ‘indiepocalypse' is an exaggeration, the market we entered is becoming increasingly crowded – you can no longer simply stick a game on Steam and watch the money roll in. Console stores are becoming increasingly crowded, too – the idea of self-publishing may be romantic, but the reality is often very different.”
Publishers need to work harder and need bigger wallets in order to afford the production values now being demanded by consumers, Dinsey says. And it's a view backed up by its rival, Team17. The Worms maker has recently signed indie projects that have multi-million pound development budgets.
Dinsey says Curve can now compete at this level, thanks to private equity support provided ?by Catalis.
Devolver and Team17 have set the bar for that next level up of indie, and Curve wants to be part of that,” adds Dinsey. That doesn't mean we are going to start throwing money around, but if the consumer expects a higher grade of indie game, then you've got to be in that space.”
It sounds like a return of the mid-tier publisher, the type of company that died off in the physical space.
That's not a bad way of putting it,” says Wheatley. The mid-tier publisher has been absorbed or disbanded. There is a gap there that one could move into. A lot of these bigger companies are not terribly interested in licences anymore. Now the industry is bigger than Hollywood, there is a completely justifiable arrogance from the large companies who are saying that they don't need licences - there wasn't a James Bond game last year, which just seems extraordinary to me.
But, the new group has all the talent to do a cracking James Bond game... There are opportunities for people like us that might be overlooked by the bigger companies.”
Curve credits its relationships with the platform holders as one of its biggest strengths. The publisher has mainly focused on console and is broadly steering clear of mobile (Mobile is like being struck by lightning. It can happen, but it probably won't happen again,” says Wheatley).
When we moved into publishing two years ago. We decided not to do mobile, and not to concentrate on PC,” adds Dinsey. And people were telling us that we were doing the wrong thing. Consoles were over. We should be on Steam. Steam is free money.
Look at the market now. The console focus was right for us then and it remains the core of our business. We love our relationships with Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. And they love the fact we have been committed to them all along.”
THE NEXT STEP
Wheatley says that Catalis may acquire more studios – We're absolutely up for that,” he declares. But his big aim is in finding new games and talent. He points to Kuju's Startup fund, which raised 350,000 for developers, and allowed him to sign three games.
However, the UK games industry's next Eidos is not about to emerge overnight. 2017, Dinsey suggests, is when we'll start to see some of the fruits of this merger.
But it's a positive move. Curve, and others such as Team17, could finally help the UK compete globally, not just in terms of development, but on a business level, too.
UK developers have proven themselves on a global stage, they're just doing that for ?American or Japanese publishers,” concludes Wheatley.
The commercial side is the bit that has been lacking in the UK games industry. We haven't had strong business people and funding so that we can get out there and – as it were – conquer other lands.”
Who isStuart Dinsey?
Most famous for founding MCV, Stuart Dinsey's career has included stints at CTW, GamesAid and UKIE.Now he serves as Curve Digital Entertainment's chairman having joined what was Curve Digital in November 2013. Outside of the games industry, Dinsey is director of both Stevenage FC and the footballer communications and promotions agency The Integrity Club.
Who isDominic Wheatley?
Dominic Wheatley helped launch one of the biggest publishers of the Britsoft era back in the ‘90s when he founded Domark Software, later re-named Eidos. Since then he has taken on the role of CEO at The Catalis Group, which owns development arm Kuju as well as QA firm Testronic. Outside of games, Wheatley served as a lieutenant in the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, British Army, and is Chair of social network creation company SocialGo.