The former Bizarre Creations staff who moved into mobile games – with mixed results
Earlier this week we spoke to six alumni about the final days of Bizarre Creations, the famous Liverpool studio which was closed down by parent company Activision last year. Here, we reveal what happened next as they set up new studios after Bizarre closed its doors.
Your workplace has closed. You’ve been made redundant. What do you do? Most people spruce up their CV, go for a string of interviews and move on. But we spoke to six former Bizarre Creations colleagues who decided to set up on their own and brave the wild frontiers of the App Store.
Pete Collier set up Hogrocket with Steven Cakebread and Ben Ward. Like so many others, this was a studio formed through relationships forged at a previous employer. “Inevitably there are people that you particularly click with in a professional sense,” Collier tells us. “It was also a matter of who was actually staying around in the area. Ben, Steve and I felt we could make a successful company between us.”
It was the same for Danny Pearce and Matt Cavanagh, who formed Grubby Hands and Totem Games respectively. “Some of the studios were built around established social groups that have a complementary skill set,” says Pearce. “A designer, artist and programmer could naturally form a solid team. Other studios were founded by a single developer, with additional labour drawn from the freelance talent pool.”
The largest studio to emerge from the Bizarre closure was Lucid Games. Co-founder Nick Davies saw the opportunity to build a new studio alongside friends with whom he shared the same ideals, and mobile was the obvious starting point. “If you want to keep costs low and get out to a huge audience then it’s almost a no-brainer,” he says. “Outside of mobile it simply isn’t going to be financially possible for a string of studios to suddenly spring up and start making high-end console games – the cost and risk are just too high for that to happen.”
Bizarre’s former senior tech programmer Martin Linklater has form when it comes to start-ups. He set up a six-man studio back in 1998 called Curly Monsters and made racing games for the console market. His new studio would be called Curly Rocket, and the obvious destination was mobile. Linklater also formed NWIndies as soon as Bizarre closed in the hope of bringing together studios in the area which have risen from its ashes. It now has over 70 members, drawn from over 30 studios.
The strong collaborative spirit in the area extends further than that, too – when Sony Liverpool closed this summer, Lucid opened its doors to offer several of its former staffers free office space as they set up as indies themselves.
From left to right: Matt Cavanagh of Totem Games; Lucid Games co-founder Nick Davies; Curly Rocket and NWIndies founder Martin Linklater
“Lots of us regularly meet up for drinks – we share experiences and show our battle scars,” says Pearce. “If one of us falls down a pot hole, we tell the rest how to avoid it. If one of us stumbles on a fruitful area, we share that as well. We’re all in the same boat together, so we genuinely want each other to do well. We swap contacts, analytics data and test each other’s games.”
Life as an indie, however, is quite different to working for a big studio like Bizarre. Naturally, studios like Lucid, Curly Rocket, Grubby Hands, Totem and Hogrocket now answer only to themselves and enjoy complete creative control, but the transition has been harder than some expected.