Monumental Get Another Grant

6 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/warrenh/2319200193/

Monumental Games recently moved offices in Nottingham, acquired half of Swordfish Manchester as it got into trouble, and now have another £140,000 grant. This time it’s from Northwest Vision and Media, and they were eligible for it thanks to taking on the extra office in a different region. That’s probably a happy but unintended outcome rather than a plan, as there are plenty of other reasons for Monumental to have acquired Swordfish Manchester and it’s not very long since they did.

It’s comparatively rare for games companies to take advantage of this kind of thing though, whereas it’s fairly common for film production all over the world. Good to see developers acting smartly even in the downturn, as we’ve previously heard a lot of cynicism from studios about readily available government support.

(CC image of coins by Warren H)





Happy New Year?

5 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/3153656575/

2008 closed with bad news for the East Midlands, with Free Radical Design going into administration (Edge Online gave some of the best coverage), though so far it seems not liquidation. The gamers I know are quite shell shocked that they failed to find a publisher for Timesplitters 4, because they and those they know regarded its predecessors so fondly.

It was thought some staff would be retained, as was announced over Christmas: 140 people have been made redundant, and 40 have stayed on, with the administrators dropping strong indications that publishers are interested in buying the studio.

Codemasters and Monumental games were on hand during the company meeting in December, and it seems David Doak and Steve Ellis have left to start a new studio. These are very troubling times, with games booming yet games businesses struggling and risk averse, but some firms are still growing and, so far, doing well.

FRD was a massive indie to lose, but others are being set up. As well as Pumpkin Beach, Simple Lifeforms recently started up too.

(CC image of a new year bonfire by tanakawho)





Split Streams

9 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/t_lawrie/320871693/

The Guardian have a perky report about how well the games industry is doing in the UK, which has some good observations, such as the timing of this recession being as good as it could be, falling in the middle of a console cycle when sales and resource allocations are optimal. Another is that publishers are more likely to put money into established IP than risky new projects, something that’s already the case mid to late cycle, given that new IP is a lot easier to launch with a new console.

However, the Guardian piece is still only telling half the story. “Recession proof” is a term that has been thrown around a lot in relation to games recently, and given the massive spate of studio layoffs, sales and closures that has blighted the end of 2008, it’s just not true. Of course it affects games businesses, just like others.

NESTA have produced a new report on the state of the UK games industry, and despite an improvement in the dollar rate it’s really struggling against a few factors. While work for hire is getting easier and more common, the amount of IP UK developers can generate seems to be decreasing. Meanwhile, the vast revenues being generated by unprecedented retail sales only go a limited way towards developers, passing as they do through the filter of publishers.

Edit: Even today, bad publishing news.

(CC image by TCL 1961)





Emote Get £600K

2 10 2008

Midlands games developers seem to be well ahead of the rest of the country in utilising funding offered by the Technology Strategy Board. As well as Monumental being funded recently, Emote just announced £600K from them as part of a £1.3M project to improve AI in networked environments.

They are also apparently partnering with Imperial College London for the project. Not only is this a more intelligent approach than most studios take, Imperial are a heavyweight university for CS, with well respected courses that make students work hard. Kudos to Emote, who are only about 25 people strong.

(via Develop)

(CC image for this post by Nadya Peek, of a rather interesting AI project involving networked Darth Vader helmets apparently composing music. Youtube links in the Flickr comments).





Monumental Expands

2 09 2008

Nottingham, UK based Monumental Games are rapidly growing, having gone from 35 to 60 staff in the past six months.

We’re based in the same region, which has quite a gathering of large game developers (Rebellion Derby, Rare, Free Radical, Eurocom) plus a some smaller studios (Gusto Derby, Emote), but until now most of them have been clustered around Derby.

Many studio heads are complaining of rising pressures in the UK, while at the same time some studios are expanding. Many more, hit by the credit crunch, are currently not expecting to grow during the next year. The dollar rate is easing somewhat, but we’ve a long way to go before the UK industry is past the worst.

The Games Up campaign seems to have been quiet for the last month or so, peaking just before that with stories in the national press and the announcement of NESTA’s skills fund. I expect they’re preparing a lot more to be put out around the London Games Festival.

A lot of developers have been talking up the UK industry for the past few months. It’s difficult right now, but not impossible.

(Image: Football superstars, in development by Monumental)





Develop: Games Up

7 08 2008

There was a panel at the Develop Conference about the Games Up campaign, which rather predictably went into tax breaks and stayed there. There were a number of good points I found in it, both for and against tax breaks, none of which I’d heard being made before.

On the panel were Richard Wilson from TIGA, Sarah Chudley from Bizarre Creations, Ian Livingstone from Eidos, and David Braben of Frontier Developments.

Cutting off any comparisons to any industries such as coal mining, Ian Livingstone pointed out that subsidising dying industries is futile, but as a growth industry games would likely be reinforced and enhanced by tax breaks. There was a quick audience vote in which a great deal of those present seemed unsure about the idea, with a few even putting their hands up against.

The reasons soon became apparent, with the session quickly turning into a debate. IGDA Director Jason Della Rocca offering some particularly challenging comments. Over all, his argument was that the problems faced in developing games at the moment are so complex that a tax break would probably make little or no difference to the UK industry.

Furthermore, he said, there are many other areas which are within reach of studios, such as tool standards and talent retention. He’s right; while game development is not quite in the management wasteland of the early 00’s, there’s still a great deal of development to be done on businesses and staff.

In line with the comments at this session, Paul Wedgwood gave this quote to GI.biz this morning:

I can tell you as the owner of a studio that, at least has the perception of being successful, if I paid less tax we wouldn’t make better games

As with any debate like this, all camps tend to be a bit naive in their own favour, but it’s interesting to note such industry figures decrying tax breaks as too simple and too unlikely a target. Of course, if the government offers the industry money it would be foolish not to take it, but there’s far more to pushing the industry forward, and I can’t help but feel that through this Richard Wilson has stepped into a tricky cultural problem in terms of game development: It’s fairly straightforward for studios to unite yet act out of self interest as far as calling on the government is concerned, but other areas where studios can make improvements call for a lot more selfless effort.

(CC window tax image by akira_kev)





TIGA Expands Lobbying

16 07 2008

TIGA is expanding it’s efforts to lobby the UK government, with a tightly packed argument built around training and education. Game development studios have far more to offer the UK than exports, and there’s opportunity for the government to utilise this in developing a more highly skilled workforce.

It’s good to see TIGA making such specific recommendations rather than just demanding tax breaks. They’ve had a much better line in PR for the past few months, especially with the launch of Games Up?. The question mark makes the name clunky, and it doesn’t seem to have a website, but they’re certainly talking to the right people and making sure to get a varied message out regularly.

Not only that, but under Richard Wilson the organisation seems to be taking a very proactive and intelligent approach to supporting the industry. Hopefully, that will prove to be contagious.

(CC image of longhand mathematics by misterbisson)