EXCLUSIVE REPORT: MMO firm's Brighton base ramping up external and internal development focus

NCsoft to open UK development studio

NCsoft is expanding its Brighton offices in order to support both externally-developed titles and new MMO content that will be made by a brand new studio it is building from scratch on the UK’s South Coast, Develop can reveal.

NCsoft Brighton was formed in 2004, built from a core of people focusing on the firm’s online publishing operation, growing QA and localisation teams to support the pan-Euroepan roll out of games such as Guild Wars. That team alone has grown from a core handful to 120. Part of that includes the expanding product development team which is ramping up for new games that will be made in the UK and Europe.

The move, says director of product development Thomas Bidaux, comes following demand from studios themselves.
He explained to Develop: “When we started in 2004 we were mainly about taking products from the existing portfolio and bringing them to Europe – meaning we had two departments, QA and localisation. But quite quickly, we got third part studios pitching us different projects. So in time we brought in more people to do third party work and look at the pitches.”

Bidaux now leads a product development team that includes seven other experts from across the field. These are former SCEE and Climax man Mike Merren (business development manager), Perplex City ARG CTO Adam Martin (lead core programmer), former Lionhead and Bullfrog man Ken Malcolm (senior game designer) and producers Rene Reichert (associate producer), Alys Elwick (third party producer), Ricky Ahn (international associate producer) and Diane Lagrange (product development assistant).

Explains Bidaux: “We also felt that we needed more external expertise on games development so have brought in experts on design and technology.”

At the same time, added Bidaux, the move towards signing externally-developed product lead the team to start thinking about internal productions as well. So far, NCsoft has production teams in America and Korea but none in Europe.

“We’ve decided to set up an internal development team to help us make our own in-house projects and also, because we will be developing internally, to make sure we have the right team to deal with the external companies as well,” said Bidaux. “It makes us even more efficient in evaluating the pitches from a design, art, programming and production point of view.”

The move is also, of course, fueled by the phenomenal growth of online gaming, constantly tipped as market on the cusp of a major boom and expansion – but studios still need to get into the online mindset, said Bidaux.
“What’s funny is that when we started, things were the other way around – NCsoft was having to pitch itself to everyone, explaining what we are about – which is of course online.

“The problem we have as a publisher is that people have an idea that they pitch to all the publishers who want single player games – then they come to us and try pitching the same idea with multiplayer elements. People need to have two pitches – one for NCsoft, and one for everyone else.

“A lot of games fall into the trap of having offline games with online functions. There’s still a lot of people just throwing mutliplayer at a single player game – that’s not how it works. Developers should focus on doing their one idea really well.”

So far, NCsoft has been a focused PC publisher, but the wider publishing and development remit raises questions about whether NCsoft is hoping to expand its offer onto consoles or into the fast growing casual online space, but when asked all the team can say is “watch this space”.

The team has, however, already signed up games from studios in Europe (with details still to be announced) while the internal team has ideas it is working on that designer Malcolm says “will surprise”.

Added Bidaux: “In the past three years we started being passive and let people come to us, but once the publishing side took off and the services were running and we were confident that our games were doing well we became more proactive with events like Game Connection.

“So we’ve built a lot of relationships already with developers, but are always happy to build more.”

As part of the studio’s recruitment drive for the new team, NCsoft is hosting an event during the 2007 Develop conference expo – for more information see the official NCsoft site here.

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