Gusto Games and Strawdog in focus

The Midlands in profile: Part 1

Following yesterday’s roundtable discussion with studio heads from some of the Midland’s leading developers, we bring you the first two of six profiles of games companies from the region.

Below you’ll find detailed overviews of both Gusto Games and Strawdog Studios.

Check back over the next two days, when we’ll be bringing you profiles of Eiconic, Lightning Fish Games, High Score Productions and Impromptu Software.


Number of staff: 50

Year founded: 2003

Location: Banbury

Key staff:
Simon Phillips (managing director)
Steve Archer (development director)
Andrew Hersee (technical director)

Previous projects:

Urban Freestyle Soccer, Console versions of Eidos’ Championship Manager franchise, Pro Stroke Golf, uTour Golf, Pro Challenge, Ultimate ISPY, Goosebumps: Horrorland

Currently working on:
The official Ashes Cricket game on Wii (due out this summer) from Codemasters, plus a number of as yet unannounced titles (both sports and non-sports based)

Stepping out of the ashes of Silicon Dreams in 2003, it’s been a rapid jounrey for Gusto to get where it is today. Set up by a bunch of friends, Gusto’s remit was to stay within the sports sector and capitalise on the experience they’d gained – and the technology they’d developed – at Silicon Dreams.

And remain along those lines it did, getting its first gig on Urban FreeStyle Soccer – unusually cross-platform for a brand new studio, thanks to that aforementioned technology obtained from its predecessor, which still forms the base of Gusto’s cross-platform engine to this day. The studio’s big break came next, however, in the form of Eidos’ Championship Manager.

“We were tasked with developing the game for all console formats,” says managing director Simon Phillips. “It was an incredible challenge and one we are still proud of – the PSP version is still a favourite game.”

The studio has at least two main game teams in order to ramp up and down smoothly on products, as well as separate technical, production and concept/design teams. The set-up is deliberately flat, says Phillips, in order to “encourage all to come forward with new ideas or ways of doing things.”

“The individuals here all feel as though they contribute to making a success of the studio.”

The studio’s long-standing tech base has been updated and optimised throughout its 12 years to add in new platforms as they are launched, which Phillips says has come in handy as the company prepares to enter the field of social gaming.

“As we start moving into more social spaces of gaming, where the platform you use becomes less important than the experience, having this wide-ranging technology makes life easier to create games where you can log in from your iPhone, PC or PS3 and have similar experiences and social elements.

“Also, the fact that it’s gone through so many product cycles is really important – it gives us great reliability during submission processes, which is something you can’t really put a price on when working on licensed products that are tied in to real-world events.”


Gusto Games
Bloxham Mill, Barford Road
Bloxham, Banbury

Tel: +44 (0) 1295 724 537


Number of staff: 12

Year founded: 2003

Location: Derby

Key staff:
Paul Smith(Managing Director)
Simon Morris (Technical Director)
Derek Pettigrew (Development Director)
Dan Marchant (Business Development Director)

Previous projects:
Geon (XBLA,PSN,Wii), Turbo Duck (iPhone) and numerous work-for-hire projects

Currently working on:
Latest XBLA game Space Ark due for release end of Q3 2009

If you’re thinking, ‘Hey, I already know about these guys,’ you probably do – Develop ran an in-depth profile on Derby’s digital darlings in our March issue. But, to save you rooting through your back issues (we know you have them), here’s a quick recap: six years ago, a group of people working at different studios in the UK felt a twinge to go it alone. Several pub conversations, emails and forum posts later, Strawdog Studios was born.

Originally working largely on contract work, it invested the profits from this into building its own original prototypes. A strong Game Connection showing lead to its first original project, Geon, being signed by Eidos, which originally launched on Xbox Live Arcade before being ported to PSP, PSN, iPhone and Wii. Since then it’s been working on Space Ark, another digital-download title set for release in Q3 this year, plus spending spare moments on iPhone game Turbo Duck which it released a few months ago.

Despite being such a small studio, the team always makes sure it has a small team constantly working on designs and ideas for new IP, in addition to the main project of the studio, while the technical director maintains the studio’s proprietary cross-platform tech.
The studio is committed to keeping control of its IP and building a business with long term value, says managing director Paul Smith.

“We have invested capital in several of our own original game projects and brought on board other investors who are not linked to the games industry,” he explains. “We’ve worked very closely with EM Media who are well known for successfully supporting UK regional film, and have now co-funded two of our game projects plus several others in the region through their European regional development funding.”

The funds, and the attached stipulation that the IP must remain in the region, has helped the studio when negotiating contracts. “It’s allowed us to licence various versions of our games to different publishers for publication across a wide spread of platforms. For an independent developer it is vital to get your IP onto as many platforms as possible to maximise revenue.”
In the long term, Strawdog aims to become a digital publisher, utilising a business model that’s “revenue based and less dependent on third-party funding,” says Smith – starting with this year’s Space Ark, which will be the first time Strawdog has taken the dual roles of publisher and developer.


The iD Centre, Lathkill House,
RTC Business Park, London Road
Derby, DE24 8UP

Tel: +44 (0)1332 258820

About MCV Staff

Check Also

When We Made… Returnal

Harry Krueger and his team at Housemarque sent gamers on a trip to time-bending cosmic horror planet Atropos last year. Vince Pavey met with the game’s director and tried not to lose his mind while learning about what it was like developing that nightmare fuel