Speaking at a special Develop-chaired panel discussion debating the sale of independent studios to publishers, Bizarre Creations’ commercial director Sarah Chudley last week offered a frank background to the studio’s sale saying she and co-founder husband Martyn Chudley ‘could have asked for more money’, but stressed that creative independence and security for staff was more important than cash.
When asked by Develop why the studio was sold to Activision last year, Chudley cited a “combination of reasons” that convinced the long-running independent to turn internal.
“We had a dreadful time signing The Club up because it wasn’t a racing game – it took us a year to sign that up. Given projects are getting bigger and bigger and bigger we were having to bankroll huge teams without a contract,” she said. “Our staff rely on us for their jobs – it’s not a business, it’s a family.”
She added: “We were fighting against the in-house developers – a publisher will always support their internal teams as they make more money from them than an external.
“We wanted to write games, we didn’t want human resources or signing off purchase orders.”
Chudley also bit back when fellow panellist Paul Wedgwood, MD of Splash Damage, said he was sceptical that “people sit there and say ‘we were really worried about staff mortgages’ and then pick up a £50m cheque later. People are never just open and never say ‘the offered me so much money, a vulgar amount of money, I fell of my chair they gave us so much money’.”
She replied: “I used to think that an ‘exit strategy’ referred to what we would do if there wasa fire in our office. The whole expansion all the away through has only been what we needed to do to survive. We could have asked for more money – what we wanted out of it was that we could support our families, and that our employees would feel secure. If selling was the primary concern we could have hired an agent, put the word out amongst publishers and had them fighting against each other. [Selling the studio] was the last thing we had on our minds, but Activision happened to be the ones to say ‘would you like to join our independent studios model’.”
She did offer some advice for those who might look to sell their own company one day – specifically, do your research. “We talked off the record to a lot of people who had worked with Activision, and even talked to people who have fallen out with Activision, too.”
Chudley added that Bizarre now runs itself fairly independently, a far cry from the way people expect an ‘internal’ team to behave. “We have an external producer who comes and sees us the way we always have.
“We have been left to make the games we want to make at the moment. More so than working with Microsoft who had a very specific role for PGR – we go through the same process as an internal studio as an external studio does.”