A North West games company sold this week to Warner Bros is eyeing rapid expansion as it develops mobile titles based on huge franchises such as LEGO alongside its own games.
Playdemic, which employs 35 people in Wilmslow, Cheshire, has been bought by TT Games, part of Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment and the makers of best-selling titles including LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Dimensions.
Its CEO Paul Gouge, 40, told BusinessCloud he is remaining at the helm of the firm and of his excitement at the prospect of developing content around the world’s biggest toy brand.
“I’ve got no interest in running away from this – there is massive potential for us inside Warner Bros,” he said. “Warner Bros has some massive brands and tie-ins.
“There have been no decisions yet as to which we will be working on, but we’re spoilt for choice! There’s the Harry Potter, Dimensions and Batman LEGO franchises, while long-term we could in theory work on Star Wars and characters from the Marvel Universe.
“We have a hiring plan for 2017, although I can’t quote figures yet. We moved to new premises before Christmas which have capacity for growth. There are also huge opportunities in our ability to access its animation studios and sound effects studios, which will help us to do our job better.
“It feels pretty special to be part of Warner Bros. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Playdemic will collaborate closely with TT Games, which develops console and handheld games based around Warner Bros IP, to develop mobile-friendly versions.
“I’ve known the TT guys, Jonathan Smith and Tom Stone, for a long time,” Gouge explained. “We’ve been talking for the last year about their vision for LEGO Star Wars and what we were doing with mobile games – sharing ideas on where to take their properties.
“The aim is for us to take the brands and make them more mobile-centric. There’s more to developing free-to-play mobile games than porting code across from the console versions.”
Playdemic, which Gouge co-founded with business partner Alex Rigby in 2010, will continue to support its existing cartoon-style Android, iOS and Facebook games Village Life, Golf Clash, Gang Nations and Gourmet Ranch from inside Warner Bros and also develop original titles.
“Golf Clash launched in January and is doing really well – it has the potential to be a top-20 product globally,” Gouge said of the mobile game that pits you against strangers in a hole of golf.
“We’re committed to supporting our existing IP and birthing new IP. Our teams work in cells which focus on particular mobile games: the Village Life team has been on that service for four years, for example, and it has been an incredible success.”
American film studios are notoriously protective of their IP in video games. Directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, for example, have been known to keep a close eye on games developed around their films to ensure they are in keeping with the overall story.
But Gouge’s previous experience of selling Rockpool Games to Tomb Raider developer Eidos Interactive in 2007 stands him in good stead for that challenge.
“LEGO is the biggest toy brand in the world and Warner Bros guard it carefully. We need to adhere to the laws of that universe,” said Gouge. “It will be a different way of working: it’s someone else’s baby and we are respectful of that. We need to make sure that everything we do is additive to and never negative to that brand.
“We found with Eidos that licence partners are often very open. After selling Rockpool Alex and I remained within the business for two years, which was very successful – we left on very good terms round about the time Square Enix bought Eidos.”
Gouge, who hails from Wigan, said the UK games industry is a well-kept secret and believes it could explode in the Manchester area in the coming years.
“Warner Bros has 650 staff in Wilmslow and Knutsford. It’s incredible – many people I speak to don’t even know that so many of gaming’s global success stories were made here,” he said.
“The British are really creative in general – look at TV, film and video games. I don’t want to get too political, but it’s because we’re so international – we’re a country of immigrants, a real melting pot.
“The games industry tends to coalesce around Liverpool, Manchester, London, the Midlands, Edinburgh and Dundee – the metropolitan centres.
“The North West is actually underrepresented at the moment – but if you look at the investment in places like MediaCity, there will be many more games companies here in 10 years’ time.”