Building a new studio from scratch can take a long time. Even once you’ve got everyone onboard, they need to gel into a proper team before they’ll create something great. That was the task facing CCP and EA veteran Sean Decker in September as he set out to build Wargaming’s first UK development studio in Guildford, from scratch.
Skipping ahead to today, Decker’s task suddenly looks a lot less arduous, as Wargaming has just acquired Edge Case Games, creators of space combat title Fractured Space. And it looks to be a match made in heaven for the fledgling studio. So much so, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t all part of plan from the start.
“There was nothing per se, like this was a master plan,” Decker tells MCV. “There was always the plan to build Wargaming UK and literally piggybacked on that there was a conversation with Edge Case and they were like: ‘Hey why don’t we do something together?’. For years, well before I came to Wargaming, James [Brooksby, CEO] and Chris [Mehers, COO] here, the founders at Edge Case, have had conversations with Victor [Kislyi, Wargaming CEO] at various conferences.”
Accepting that, it’s an incredible bit of good fortune, a huge step forward for the studio: “This just happened to fit perfectly, we still need a lot of good people, but this definitely speed boosts us.”
Fitting perfectly looks to be something of an understatement when you dig into it. Edge Case is already based in Guildford for starters, with Decker talking to us from its current offices, where he’s set up camp until new premises are pinned down for everyone.
And that really is everyone: “The whole team is coming onboard, it’s been fantastic that way. It’s great that we’ve got a spot for everybody,” Decker enthuses. “The size of team that Wargaming UK wants to build is bigger than Edge Case’s group coming over.”
Which also means there’s the opportunity for some to step up and take on more responsibility in the new larger structure. With the team also comes already-built relationships and shared experience.
“It’s the culture, and all those things that are hard to build,” Decker says. “It takes time getting the right chemistry and so forth. And so we were very lucky in this respect.”
And then there’s the team’s specific experience in building Fractured Space. The space combat game, with five-vs-five multiplayer battles, commanding massive capital ships, is very close to the kind of games that Wargaming has traditionally created.
“If you look across western developers as a whole, there aren’t a lot who have built their own vehicle-based, free-to-play, games-as-a-service, MMO combat game and run it for a number of years. All those things built into that, all the experiences, the cuts and bruises you get along the way... That fit really quite well.”
The right team, with the right experience, in the right locale, surely it can’t get better?
“They’ve done all this on Unreal and Unreal is our chosen tech stack, so again we’re super fortunate to have this all come together at the same time.”
Not all of Decker’s recruitment problems are over, of course. Edge Case will form the core of the new studio but there are still plenty of seats to fill: “We’re still recruiting some key roles... But there’s some roles they were filling with contractors, we’d like to bring those in-house,” he explains.
And then of course there’s the usual recruitment pain points for any studio: “The hardest thing throughout the industry is tech people because you’re always having competition with other sectors: AI companies, Facebook or Google, the city, banks… We’re looking for a couple of creative roles as well, those are the core ones we’re trying to fill right now.”
GETTING IT RIGHT
The future is looking rosy then, but it’s too soon to reveal anything about the project itself, or a rough date when that might happen: “We [initially] created several concepts, and there is one that has been picked up,” Decker says. “We realised early on that the scope of this IP would need a dedicated studio to work on it.
“Obviously we want to go as quickly as possible, but we want to get it right and be sure that what we’re on track to build is the right thing. We’ll be doing a lot of player testing, a lot of UX testing. Once we feel comfortable, we’ll bring it out and take it for a run.
“For the last decade, I have been passionate about games-as-a-service. This started with my time at EA, through CCP, and now at Wargaming. CCP’s players are fantastic and as a huge fan of World of Tanks myself, I immediately saw that same passion in Wargaming’s players.”
We can’t help but wonder if the words ‘World of…’ might appear in the title, but Decker wont’ bite: “Currently, no title has been chosen. But the game will be a free-to-play MMO on multiple platforms,” he replies. “However, we are looking to delve much deeper into co-op and PvE gameplay, in addition to PvP,” he adds.
“The guys here are fantastic, they are just so good and experienced, but open to trying new things and really hungry to do some fantastic stuff. I know that sounds like puff-piece, but I’m loving it here,” he concludes.
It’s still hard to believe that the kings of online strategy-action gaming didn’t have this all planned out well in advance, but then adapting your strategy as you go is always a key part of success.