Q&A with FreeStyleGames' Chris Lee details reasoning behind former independent studio's decision to go in-house

‘Activision prides itself on its independent studio model’

Chris Lee has told us that the only reason he broke with his formerly staunch independent view on games development to sell the team he co-manages to Activision because the publisher has an independent studio system internally creates ‘a very tight family approach’.

Activision Publishing announced its acquisition of FreeStyle last month. It’s the second UK studio the firm boasts after it acquired Bizarre Creations a year ago.

In previous writings for Develop, Lee had praised the world’s independent studios, and Britsoft talent in them specifically, so we recently took the chance to speak with him about the move and find out what changed his mind…

How long have you been working with Activision?

We’ve been working with Activision for a while on Guitar Hero. We’ve already delivered a wide range of DLC tracks on Guitar Hero 3, including the recent Dragonforce & Guitar Virtuoso packs. We’ve also known the senior team at Activision, Red Octane and Neversoft for a long time. It was a range of discussions that led to the opportunity to become part of the Activision family.

Why Activision and not another publisher?

We have a lot in common with the teams within Activision. There’s a great cultural fit between the two companies and although success means they’re getting bigger, they still operate a very tight family approach to what they do and we feel very much at home in that environment and respected as part of their roster of amazing studio talent. One of Activision’s key strengths is their independent studio model. All of their internal studios retain their own unique cultures. Activision’s belief is that this autonomy helps foster creativity and innovation. In addition Activision has the muscle, expertise and experience to provide FreeStyleGames with the platform we need to achieve our ambitions.

Without the approach from Activision, we wouldn’t have considered a sale of the company. It was simply the right fit and the right partnership for our teams, projects and ambition.

In your previous conversations with Develop, FreeStyleGames and its team had been ardent supporters of the independent studio model – what’s changed?

Our view hasn’t changed on this. We still believe that studios need to be independent and Activision prides itself on its independent studio model. Of-course, we’re now part of a bigger family, with all the benefits that provides, but we also get to keep the things that are most precious to us, such as our culture, our processes, our quirks and differences. Life at FreeStyleGames will continue very much as it always has.

We spent a lot of time visiting studios such as Bizarre Creations, Neversoft, Treyarch and Red Octane to get a feel for what life might be like within Activision. Everywhere was different and very independent in its approach. People felt a great loyalty to their particular studio and the games they’re working on. This gave us the comfort that it was a great cultural fit for FreeStyleGames and an environment where we could continue to succeed.

Do you think he age of the independent developer is over?

No. Not at all. I think the independent space is very strong and full of opportunity. Our decision to join the Activision family was focused on our products and people. It doesn’t signal the end of independence. The industry needs an independent development community and thankfully we have a great network of thriving studios around the world that prove it’s alive and well.

You’re working on new IP – what can you tell us about that project at this point in its production?

We’re itching to talk more about our new IP. We’ll hopefully be able to talk more about this soon.

There are now a fair few studios in the UK and USA focused on making games with music components. Are you confident you can compete?

Put simply, yes. We can’t wait. We’re very fortunate at FreeStyleGames to have an incredibly talented group of people who are very passionate about what they do. The DLC work we’re doing on Guitar Hero is already receiving great reviews. It doesn’t hurt to be working on the #1 franchise in the space. With the support and enthusiasm of Activision, Neversoft and Red Octane behind us, we’re looking forward to deliver even more compelling content.

Growth in the music genre has been quite sudden – what does FreeStyleGames hope to do that will keep it an interesting area of the games market?

At FreeStyleGames we feel that the games industry is only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Games such as Guitar Hero are an incredible achievement, but a lot goes into making this happen. We’re looking forward to become part of this team and hopefully add our own flavour to widen and enrich the music gaming space.

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