Keith Stuart: Gamesblog

If videogame development is to remain fresh, argues Keith Stuart, the industry needs a corporate culture that nourishes quirky design - but within a strict framework.

Spring, a time of frenzied activity in the natural world, has proved equally as stirring for the videogame industry. Last week, Microsoft bought Lionhead Studios, the UK developer of Black & White and The Movies. Two days before that, the US mobile games giant Glu purchased the UK publisher iFone, which has the rights to convert Atari and Sega classics for Java phones. Sega, meanwhile, has also been on a shopping spree, grabbing Sports Interactive (creator of Championship Manager) and the San Francisco-based developer Secret Level.

Usually, industry watchers take a dim view of such corporate bustle, bemoaning the homogenisation of game development and the creeping death of the independent spirit. But is consolidation such a bad thing? Not always. History has shown that developers, like ageing pop musicians, can become flabby if left to their own devices for too long.

Take Scottish studio DMA design. Responsible for the classic puzzler Lemmings, the company rocketed into a creative vortex in the late 90s, before being bought out by Rockstar. What emerged from the chaos? Grand Theft Auto III - one of the most important British games ever released.

US developer Neversoft had a terrifyingly bad mid-90s. Then Activision bought it and put it to work on the international megahit Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Electronic Arts' purchase of Bullfrog productions in 1995 saw the company abandon vanity projects in favour of big sellers Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper II. Before Infogrames bought out "old skool" UK software house Ocean, the company's internal studio was working on HMS Carnage - a steam-punk space shoot-'em-up featuring galactic bi-planes. Uh-huh.

Mergers and acquisitions usually bring discipline, and when large numbers of people are involved - as is the case with modern videogame production - this can be a much more valuable driving force than creative freedom. The "it's finished when it's finished" approach rarely works: Id pulled it off with Doom III and Quake IV, Valve did it with Half-Life 2, but for each of those titles there are 10 bloated and pretentious failures.

Nature consolidates. It is the way of the world. What the industry needs is a corporate culture that nourishes quirky design - but within a strict framework. The tightly controlled Hollywood studio system of the 1940s provides a pretty good model. Sports Interactive, through its excellent relationship with Sega, has learned to trim its excesses, but at the moment Lionhead, a national treasure, is operating like a maverick auteur of the 1970s, spinning out its good ideas into confusing experiences. In this season of re-birth, it is time for a fresh approach.

· If you'd like to comment on any aspect of Technology Guardian, send your emails to


Keith Stuart

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Console wars: challengers must force the pace to unseat the leader

Microsoft really needs the 360 to become the next must-have gaming rig.

Jack Schofield

01, Dec, 2005 @1:25 AM

Victor Keegan: Operators' greed puts creativity at risk

Victor Keegan: Why aren't there thousands of ideas being dreamed up by bedroom operators taking advantage of the simple coding needed for mobiles?

Victor Keegan

23, Feb, 2006 @11:58 PM

Keith Stuart: Gamesblog

Keith Stuart: Gamers, like film and TV viewers, are inveterate liars about the sorts of entertainment they enjoy. Videogames that no one will own up to playing top the charts, while titles everyone says they love, like the oddball Japanese adventure Katamari Damacy, fail to dent the top 20.

Keith Stuart

11, May, 2006 @1:21 AM

Keith Stuart: Gamesblog

Gamesblog: In Japan, they have had enough. Already addicted to brain-enhancing grid puzzles such as Sudoku and Kakuro, they want a similar workout from videogames.

Keith Stuart

19, Jan, 2006 @1:59 AM

Article image
Game review: Rainbow Six Vegas 2

Version two polishes the squad shooter action and adds a pile of role-playing depth

Greg Howson

27, Mar, 2008 @12:05 AM

Article image
Game review: Magic Made Fun

Any game that encourages you to cover your mistakes by blaming the device is somewhat clutching at straws

Mike Anderiesz

27, Mar, 2008 @12:05 AM

Aleks Krotoski: Board games will help you rediscover true control

Aleks Krotoski: This week I was up to my armpits in slag, covered in coal and exposed to noxious fumes. I went to Coalbrookdale and learned how to cast iron - and all in the pursuit of art and self-discovery.

Aleks Krotoski

12, Jul, 2006 @11:26 PM

Game of the week: Burnout: Revenge

Game of the week:Anyone unfamiliar with the idea behind a game like Burnout should think back to the most despicable gridlock situation they have ever found themselves in - and then imagine how much happier they would have felt if their car could simply batter all the traffic out of the way.

Steve Boxer

29, Sep, 2005 @12:43 AM

Aleks Krotoski: Gamesblog:

Gamesblog: Has it been 10 years since we first witnessed the blistering speed of WipEout? Since we watched the heaving rise and fall of Lara Croft's voluptuous silicon assets?

Aleks Krotoski

29, Sep, 2005 @12:43 AM

The titles that defined Fahrenheit's genre

Grim Fandango (1998) | The Longest Journey (1999) | Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1999) | Shenmue (2000)

Kieron Gillen

15, Sep, 2005 @2:34 AM