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Game Over, Britain

By on April 20, 2010
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The news last week that Indian company Reliance had purchased a 50% stake in Codemasters got me thinking.

My conclusion: Britain no longer matters for games publishing.

And then there were none

Once upon a time, Britain was a global leader. Ultimate Play the Game, Ocean, Psygnosis, Gremlin, Virgin Interactive, Eidos, Codemasters – these were global publishers releasing global franchises with British shareholders and generating British profits.

One by one, they were gone:

  • Ultimate turned into Rare and was bought by Microsoft in 2002 for $377 million
  • Ocean bought by Infogrames for £100 million in 1998
  • Psygnosis bought by Sony in 1993
  • Gremlin bought by Infogrames in 1999 for £21 million
  • Virgin Interactive split up: EA bought Westwood Studios in 1998, Titus Interactive bought the rest in 1999.
  • Eidos bought by Square Enix in 2009 for £84.3 million
  • Codemasters now owned by Balderton and Reliance


But what about new publishers?

We live in the era of self-publishing. Aren’t the big new companies, active in online and Facebook games, going to be our salvation?

Well, the big one was Playfish. And that was bought by Electronic Arts last year for between $300 and $400 million.

Jagex? Runescape is a great game, but the company has yet to prove that it can launch more than one game successfully, especially after the MechScape debacle.

Mind Candy?As above. Moshi Monsters is a great product, but the company is not a publisher, bringing multiple games to market (and ideally – for the purposes of this definition – other people’s games.)

Does the death of British publishing matter?

From one perspective, it doesn’t. It’s old thinking. We are all publishers now. I publish this blog (and soon an ebook on “How to Publish a Game”). You publish games you’ve developed, or are thinking about it. There is no place for giant, monolithic publishers.

And yet….

Publishers give coherence to a creative business. They give new entrants hope. They provide a strong voice in government, in academia, in driving the future of our industry.

I don’t bemoan the death of old publishers. They are monolithic dinosaurs, proponents of the Digital Economy Act and supporters of anything – no matter how futile – to prop up their dying business model.

But I do worry about the absence of global British success stories. I had high hopes for Playfish, but EA snapped them up before they really got going.

So my clarion call is this: Buck up,Britain. We need more, stronger, global games publishers. We need companies that are worth billions, not snapped up for tens or hundreds of millions.

Above all, we need the ambition to build global champions.

So, who’s with me?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • ChrisBateman

    Preaching to the choir, Nick – I've been banging this drum for over a decade now. 🙁

  • I think lots of smaller publishers is a very fair point.
    BUT scale does matter. Home grown companies inspire entrepreneurs, offer an exit route and can help smaller companies get a leg up (if they publish them).
    So I am all for lots of small companies, but I would like some big ones too.

  • I think we need big independent European and British companies in all tech sectors, games included. So I'm with you!

  • zoombapup

    Nope, I'm not with you here. I think we need lots of SMALL publishers (i.e. developers themselves) rather than some monolithic beast of a publisher. I'd rather we kill the enemy with a death by a thousand cuts approach than try and knife them with a bayonet.

    And while I'm at it, lets throw a grenade into the government to get them to help us all over the top to give the enemy a jolly good thrashing while we're at it!

    Ok, I'll stop now.

  • endacarey

    Totally agree Nicholas – the real value lies in the publisher whether old dinosaur or new type – the key is to support them and provide an environment where they can grow to the levels you suggest but this needs sympathetic funders and a troughput of talent (people and games) to make it work

  • hear, hear!