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Thinking big to reach the next level

Why a growth plan is essential in the games industry

Independent games studio AntiMatter Games reveals how it successfully made the journey from small indie player to regional big-hitter.

In just over seven years AntiMatter Games has been transformed from a small Cornish studio modelling other people’s creations into the largest games developer in the South West.

Currently employing nearly 50 people and looking to recruit up to 30 more during 2021, the studio is developing two exciting new games – the multi-player Cold War shooter '83' and 'IGI Origins', a prequel to one of the most popular games of this genre from the noughties. While awaiting its official release date, 83’s YouTube preview video alone has scored an impressive two million hits.

Effectively working as an independent, Truro-based AntiMatter is part of Enad Global 7 (EG7), a Swedish-owned video game co-operative comprising 16 companies and boasting a portfolio of 1,500 titles.

AntiMatter sold to EG7 in 2018 in a move to become a creative force producing its own high octane games.

Growth plan

Managing Director Rich Barham began steering the company on that course after joining six years ago as a seasoned games industry executive with an extensive track record of working with large and triple-A games companies in Europe and the US.

“There was lots of talent and potential but a pretty loose structure, no real business strategy and the studio operated mainly on a ‘work for hire’ basis,” Rich says.

He argues the ‘work for hire’ model is often too hand-to-mouth, makes it difficult to establish regular income, requires immense amounts of time and energy to secure contracts, and frustrates creatives who have to work to someone else’s agenda and designs.

"We wanted to break that cycle, so we created a five-year plan to grow the studio to a size where we could do more ambitious things."

"But we needed to find funding to develop a new game to showcase what we could do. We reorganised our resources to achieve a balance between work for hire and paying for the development of a new game, and kept ourselves as lean as possible in terms of operational costs."

The big step

That first game, 'Rising Storm 2: Vietnam' launched in 2017, was a great success selling over one million copies, and the studio began developing its next title, '83'.

Various crowdfunding options were considered for '83' but, given the hefty multi-million up-front development cost, the leadership team felt they needed more financial backing.

“We chose to look for an enlightened partner, one big enough to buy us and fund the development of the next game, but that would allow us to retain as much independence as possible while benefiting from being part of a larger entity.

“We took '83' to the Games Developers Conference (GDC) and spoke to a wide variety of potential partners. There was a mutual feeling of interest from EG7 in particular, and they not only agreed to acquire us to fully develop the game but, shortly after acquisition, also asked us to create a successor to the IGI games that were very popular in the early 2000s. We had expected to develop one game, but we're delighted to enjoy the challenge of working on two!"

Lessons and challenges

For Rich, the lessons learned from AntiMatter’s experiences are pertinent for any start-up indie games developer.

“I recommend that anyone who wants to launch their own studio, no matter what their background, spends a year or two working inside a successful larger studio, doing the job they think they want to do, before starting on that journey. The contextual experience they will acquire will be invaluable for anything they want to do in the future.

“Funding is always a challenge but I see a lot of investors interested in putting money into games presently and I believe there are great opportunities for people with experience working in large studios providing they can get the finance to strike out on their own.”

He asserts that an ambitious developer really needs to bring someone on board who understands the business side of the games industry inside out and has the relevant financial, commercial and business development skills.

“You need someone who knows how to talk to investors and other stakeholders, can secure funding and help develop strategy and structure, so the creatives can focus on making great games.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of money to be made by building the business and then finding the right acquiror.”

Future strength

“There’s no doubt the UK games industry as a whole is going through exciting times, and will continue on its strong trajectory of expansion.”

The pandemic, while throwing up operational challenges, has helped to boost the public profile of the games industry, with more people exploring game-playing during lockdown, and Rich believes this uplift will continue as key the sector gains greater recognition and attracts more positive media coverage.

“Post-Covid, I’m sure larger businesses in the industry will remain relatively stable but the significant levels of acquisition activity that are taking place may result in the formation of some really big players, possibly creating a more challenging environment for middle-ranking studios,” he adds.

“It’s still a fairly volatile industry, but independents will continue to enjoy great opportunities to develop innovative games and make good money while building their brand, providing they have access to the necessary business acumen to commercialise titles with great sales potential and get them to market effectively.”

Concluding, Rich says: “From our perspective, we’re now in a strong position. Based in a new office overlooking the water and part of a large and successful organisation, we’re looking forward to releasing two fantastic titles we’ve developed and watching them take off.”

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