Splash Damage was created off the back of several successful mods. When did you realise your work on mods was going to become your full time job?
I had travelled out to QuakeCon 2000 in Dallas from London. On the flight, I realised Quake had taken over my life. I ran one of the UK’s most successful Team Fortress clans, I was a presenter on one of the world’s first esports TV shows, Quake Republic, I was the administrator for a couple of leagues, an IRCop on QuakeNet and a columnist on Barrysworld. We land, and suddenly we were surrounded by 5,000 other Wolfenstein and Quake fans who were just as passionate as us. I instantly knew that I’d found my life’s purpose.
Do you think the modder to pro pathway is still viable today?
Absolutely! It has constantly changed guise – from total conversions of other people’s games, to making free add-ons using publicly released game engines, to where we’re at today when you can create a completely stand-alone title without upfront costs on Unreal Engine 4, release it on Steam, Xbox Live or PSN, then later charge for new content once you’ve built up a fanbase. We started off without any business experience and have, to date, achieved eight consecutive No.1 hits. If we can do it, you can.
Is there anything in your career you wished you had done differently?
Nothing, but I made a lot of mistakes that I would love to share with others. I spent more than ten years in IT, and while it grew boring towards the end, I developed a great understanding of servers and networks. My obsession with Quake got me fired a lot and my esports TV show seemed pointless to many, but those three pillars – networking, gaming, and public speaking – were a great foundation for being a games CEO.
Do you feel a responsibility to try and create an atmosphere that helps other developers and mod-makers succeed?
I think that those wanting to get into the games industry are already well catered for. However, I grew up on a London Council estate, was expelled from school at 15, and written-off by the careers advice office. I’ve now sold Splash Damage in a deal worth up to $160m, and although I’m staying on as CEO until at least 2020, I’ve decided to dedicate some of my time to helping similarly underprivileged kids escape poverty. I’m funding and heading up a new foundation called Bootstrap, that will share all the techniques I’ve discovered, to help others on their path to fame and fortune.
What has been the biggest change in the games industry you’ve seen in the last decade?
We’ve had so many disruptions; the transition from retail to digital distribution, mobile gaming, free-to-play sweeping from the east, the huge growth of Steam, the death, rebirth, and new rise of console gaming, but only one change has affected all gamers, developers, publishers, business models, and platforms – the complete pivot to games-as-a-service. It changes everything. The shift challenges developers to create much higher quality games, it allows us to support a title, properly, for many years after its release, and it allows a developer to recover from a mistake, and rebuild the trust of the community, or to self fund its own title.
Do you still play many games? Are there any you’re really enjoying?
I’m certainly not playing shooters for 18 hours a day anymore, but I love playing the biggest hits of the year. However, right now I’m side-tracked showing friends and family my Vive, binging on Job Simulator, Audioshield, Space Pirate Trainer, The Lab, Zombie Training Simulator, and interactive experiences such as Universe Sandbox, Richie’s Plank Experience, theBlu, and Tilt Brush – that’s when I’m not playing Minecraft with my seven-year-old son.