Having formed one of the UK’s top developers in 1999, Evolution Studios, and prior to that Digital Image Design in 1989, Martin Kenwright has been out of the game industry for the last seven years.
But after a lengthy hiatus, he’s making a comeback at the newly formed studio Starship in Liverpool.
Speaking to Develop, Kenwright says his years away from games gave him a new perspective on the industry, the gaps in the market and sectors in which games can innovate and be used to educate.
“The thing for me was taking seven years our to take a look at the real world as it were and not our little microcosm of games,” he says.
“I just saw the amazing opportunity out there, and from an exciting, pioneering perspective than just a commercial liability perspective. And I just thought of all the really exciting stuff we can do with all the tech and all these other new exciting sectors that have never seen the likes of it before.
“It’s a very crowded sector still the games market, and you’ve got to look at things from slightly different perspectives now, in terms of from a commercial perspective instead of just fighting in the same backyard with the same people and fighting over the same space. What would happen if we used gamification and moved into sectors that have never really seen really cool uber 3D before, and high-end visuals?”
Those sectors he’s talking about include e-health, lifestyle and education. The young start-up of just over 30 staff already has a number of titles already in the pipeline, such as children’s adventure series PlayWorld, interactive cookery platform CyberCook, and memory tool Forget-Me-Not.
Though tight-lipped on exactly what each of these projects offers, mobile title PlayWorld appears to take some inspiration from Minecraft by allowing children to make things using cardboard and paper, and then seeing their creations come to life, which Kenwright cryptically, and perhaps hyperbolically, describes as a “Hollywood spectacle”.
Forget-me-not meanwhile, which targets a completely different and niche audience, is designed as a memory tool for people with memory impairments with conditions including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Its other new IP is CyberCook, an interactive cookery platform launching in Q4 this year, designed to offer a new way of learning to cook, which Kenwright hopes will bring something new to an industry he believes hasn’t changed since the 1990s.
“It’s only the start. We’ve unveiled this trio,” he says.
“The idea is to become a very prolific IP house. Come up with the ideas that the top calibre of people we’ve got here can deliver. There is a proper world-class hub of talent here in Liverpool and again, we’re competing against companies all around the world, who may be $10 an hour developers in these sectors. So we’re really out to be a big player and shake them all up.”
Asked whether he’s worried about a lack of focus at Starship, given the broad spectrum of markets it's targeting, Kenwright compares his new business to the traditional console game development model used by studios such as his former company Evolution.
“Is it a good thing having two to three hundred staff on one product, on one format with all their dependencies? And when the side wind comes, what happens to them?” he questions.
“Whereas we’re here for a fraction of the staff, fraction of the turnover, doing far more products. And people aren’t defocused because we’ve got specific people on specific projects who can realise their vision.”
In future Kenwright hopes to significantly increase the number of staff at Starship, and says the studio has all the provisions for a “major scale up” should its current in-development products prove to be successful.
And despite working on a trio of titles, he doesn’t rule out more typical game development in future based around a theme for which he is famous for.
“With a name like Starship, and looking at the historical stuff we’ve created, you can kind of put two and two together,” he teases.
“We’re trying to do something really exciting in the sector.”