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Best of British


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Right so the British gaming industry is going down the plughole faster than a house spider against a 100W power washer. So it seems now would be a good time to take a little look back at all that has been produced from this little kingdom somewhere in the east Atlantic.

If you said to someone ten years ago that Codemasters would be one of the last remaining British companies still producing games for the current formats people would have laughed at you what with their humble budget origins. With Eidos gobbling up everyone else in the 90's and studio after studio closing down each week the British gaming scene is a rather dull and lifeless place these days compared to the multitude of different companies, people, teams and personalaties that populated it not so long ago.

So in this thread you can talk about companies or development teams long since dead like US Gold, Pygnosis, Ocean, Graftgold, Magnetic Fields, Sensible Software, Probe or individual greats like Archer McLean or Geoff Crammond. British games that stand the test of time. Or companies like Amstrad or Acorn now reduced to ashes.

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It is looking a bit bleak on the UK development front.

However it's possible that following a period of upheaval and consolidation, and with the benefit of decent management (i.e. not still making decisions that would only have been viable 5-10 years ago), a few UK companies will rise from the ashes.

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Perhaps these things are cyclical. Perhaps the industry as it is can't sustain - or doesn't need - the number of developers that there currently are, hence many going out of business. Perhaps things will pick up over the course of the next few years, and the number of developers will build until there are too many again and "dead skin" is shed.

Incidentally, does anyone else think that the death of the "home computer" and the fact that games are now more complicated than knocking off a bit of assembly code and designing some sprites has "done for" the UK games industry to a certain extent? Or am I, as I suspect, spouting ill-informed claptrap?

Still, Magnetic Fields are doing OK... that 69 Love Songs is a work of genius!

Shit obscurist indie joke for you, there. Sorry.

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Incidentally, does anyone else think that the death of the "home computer" and the fact that games are now more complicated than knocking off a bit of assembly code and designing some sprites has "done for" the UK games industry to a certain extent? Or am I, as I suspect, spouting ill-informed claptrap?

Yeah, I think that's hurt developers all over though.

A couple of contributing factors that I've seen cropping up again and again:

1. Insistance on doing everything in house, in the UK. This is alarmingly inefficient when it comes to intensive work like animation and engine coding.

2. Lack of publisher support, either due to non-business-savvy developers being fed a dodgy contract or publishers weaseling out of their obligations and/or cutting corners.

The rise of the PC and PlayStation 1 over the last few years could be likened to the dotcom boom in a way. Suddenly anyone could compete if they had enough marketing muscle, and in the aftermath of that we've been left with a lot of frankly incompetent managers promoted into high places.

I should really stop reading FatBabies. ;)

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A couple of contributing factors that I've seen cropping up again and again:

1. Insistance on doing everything in house, in the UK. This is alarmingly inefficient when it comes to intensive work like animation and engine coding.

2. Lack of publisher support, either due to non-business-savvy developers being fed a dodgy contract or publishers weaseling out of their obligations and/or cutting corners.

The rise of the PC and PlayStation 1 over the last few years could be likened to the dotcom boom in a way. Suddenly anyone could compete if they had enough marketing muscle, and in the aftermath of that we've been left with a lot of frankly incompetent managers promoted into high places.

I should really stop reading FatBabies. ;)

1. So are you suggesting a film studio model, a la Japan, where developers are so specialised that they no longer produce a game, but instead produce bits of a game (animation/design, art, etc.)

2. Unfortunately there are definitely cases of publishers misbehaving by delaying payments or cancelling projects then acquiring the assets of the consequently defunct company and stuff. But that's not the real problem in my opinion; the real problem is the apparent inability of the vast majority of independent developers to fund themselves beyond a single project - so when that project goes tits up because of a misbehaving publisher, they go under; or through any means other than a royalty advance from a publisher - which means that they are reliant on milestones and susceptible to late/non-payment.

There *has* to be another solution.

Equally though, the development scenes in the US and Japan don't seem to be quite so bad, and there's the same structural weaknesses (because even the move to specialised work still results in overreliance on publisher funding). Why is that?

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I'm a simple consumer who's kinda followed the industry so know jack shit really, but i'd love to see these old skool programmers writing games and selling them online.

I also think that links from gaming related forums to progammer/small company sites is another must as this is where so many gamers concentrate.

Given the abilty to copy software from home, could we not see a return to the bedroom eithic?

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1. So are you suggesting a film studio model, a la Japan, where developers are so specialised that they no longer produce a game, but instead produce bits of a game (animation/design, art, etc.)

2. Unfortunately there are definitely cases of publishers misbehaving by delaying payments or cancelling projects then acquiring the assets of the consequently defunct company and stuff. But that's not the real problem in my opinion; the real problem is the apparent inability of the vast majority of independent developers to fund themselves beyond a single project - so when that project goes tits up because of a misbehaving publisher, they go under; or through any means other than a royalty advance from a publisher - which means that they are reliant on milestones and susceptible to late/non-payment.

There *has* to be another solution.

Equally though, the development scenes in the US and Japan don't seem to be quite so bad, and there's the same structural weaknesses (because even the move to specialised work still results in overreliance on publisher funding). Why is that?

1. Maybe. Certainly farming out animation (as Sierra started doing about ten years ago with their first wave of CD-ROM games, or the Simpsons does now) and using middleware/licensed tech. (Renderware, Havok) are good trade-offs in may cases.

2. I agree. Although there is a lot of resistance to the conclusion you could draw from that that therefore independent development isn't an option any more.

The situation in the US and Japan isn't as wildly different, I think to a degree it's a matter of scale, and that the serious consolidation has already happened.

Another interesting point is that many European developers, working under similar or in some cases worse local economic conditions to the UK, seem to be more stable and successful (in some cases).

In all cases I think publishers investing in developers for mutual benefit is a more sane proposition than publishers sucking independent developers dry.

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Is it their own faults for following the greedy marketing model as laid-out by the Americans? In the end, (most) UK games are just trying to be like American ones. They could have probably done with taking a bite out of the Japanese biscuit instead.

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Games have got so more expensive its hard for a developer to keep afloat, and when publishers are being tight and mess about many developers go under. Urban street soccer was 90% finished, but Acclaim didnt bother paying the developer anymore, so they went under. Thus acclaim wasted a lot of money on a game they promoted a lot as well.

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I think it's worth observing that development companies now do employ more people than before, given the complexity of the modern product.

Regarding outsourcing art, it should be done really, but it's a vicious circle, because there isn't enough game art people out there to work per project. The reason it works in some cases in Japan is that they hire external concept designers, per project, which is why one teams games can vary in look so wildly from one to the next. The downside is that the treasured (in the UK at least) "house style" can fail to develop.

When you think of the rare occasions it's been done, like Designers Republic on Wipeout, its clear it's a massive success. Quantum Redshift suffered immeasurably at retail as a result of poor art design, due to the team leading the direction.

Game art isn't anything like as specialist as it used to be, and you can make it on distinctly average PCs, so I fully expect this to happen.

The big problem in the UK is early delusions of grandeur. Everyone genuinely believes they can jump to the top of the pile with their next game. Then there's the unbelievable lack of variety in the western games scene, generally (both development and consumption), and it's not all looking rosy. That's why I like the mobile games sector. :)

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I think 3D and big market killed Britiain gaming scence as they don't have the resources to keep competitive.

I wonder why there is no one to set up a company and make work with Archer McLean, Geoff Crammond, Andrew Braybrook, and co. Maybe they need to work together and look after themselves. There is enough talent to make a gaming development giant in UK. I wish Nintendo do something with their 300 millions from MS for rare.

Also downloading games only good for PC games and we prefer to play them on consoles.

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