Sumo Digital is poised for the next generation after a successful start in the last, discovers Joao Diniz-Sanchesâ?¦

Sumo Digital

From its conversion beginnings to brand new, custom-built premises, Sheffield-based Sumo is another superteam of around 100 staff intent on becoming a UK heavyweight.

Sumo Digital entered the ring in June 2003 when nine individuals, mostly former members of Gremlin Interactive and, subsequently, Infogrames Studios Sheffield, got together and set up their own development house.

Their first major project involved producing original software for an exercise bike company – hardly the sort of thing likely to send reverberations through the industry, perhaps, but Sumo still had a leg in the air.

When it eventually came stomping down, as the company announced its next effort, there can’t have been many who didn’t feel it.

“I think the day we got the OutRun 2 work was pretty special,” recalls James North-Hearn, Sumo’s CEO, conceding the first year of any development company is not without stress or uncertainty.

“By landing OutRun, we not only managed to secure enough work to keep us going, but to have that work revolving around such a fantastic franchise was both vindicating and thrilling for us. It was great that Sega took the comparative gamble on us.”

At the time, Sega claimed the choice had been easy given Sumo’s passion for the project, its technical expertise and uncommonly tight project management – the studio takes milestones very seriously, for instance.

“Remember, we’ve worked on the side of publishing through Gremlin and Infogrames, so we have an empathy with their needs as well as our development requirements, which I think lays a good foundation for developer/publisher relations,” says North-Hearn.

But also crucial are good interoffice relationships, of course. And the fact that the majority of the staff have worked together in various situations over the last decade is one of the developer’s key strengths, the CEO believes. “This forms an incredibly close bond between all the employees – we know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. This means we can assign relevant roles on teams that will function well socially and professionally, which in turn encourages relaxed but tightly focused teams.”

And the work keeps coming. Already with a reputation for quality PSP conversions – indeed, the new office now houses a specifically set up division which focuses solely on Sony’s handheld – North-Hearn cites the recent work with Charles Cecil on the latest Broken Sword as proof the studio can work outside of the genre it is most associated with. Combined with its past releases for PS2 and Xbox, the studio is keen to be known for a broader portfolio.

Getting its arms around original IP was therefore simply a matter of time, and a natural progression for the team given past experience, and it’s a contest the developer is relishing.

“We hope to establish ourselves as one of the UK’s key next-gen developers. We’re incredibly excited about all the projects we’ve got in the pipeline, and we hope that the quality of the product will cement our reputation, get us more work and allow us to continue to make great games,” says North-Hearn.

“This industry is unpredictable at best, so securing our future with innovative and exciting products is our goal.” It will be Sumo’s most daunting challenge yet, but one from which most expect the developer to emerge victorious.

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