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Local Game Developers Dambuster Studios Give Us the Lowdown on their Future Plans

17 February 20 words: George White

Located in the heart of Nottingham, Dambuster Studios has been one of the country’s biggest video game developers for over twenty years. With projects including dystopian first-person shooter series Homefront: The Revolution and Dead Island, their Studio Development Director Rob Matthews tells us they have no plans of slowing down...

It’s clear that Dambuster Studios’ development director Rob Matthews is pleased with what the company has achieved over the last two decades. “We were founded in 1999 as Free Radical Design, and started off with Timesplitters on the PlayStation 2. That was a huge commercial and critical achievement, and propelled the studio forward from there,” he says. “Since then, we’ve worked on a number of big projects, including Crysis for both the major gaming consoles and Ryse: Son of Rome, which was Xbox One’s launch title at the time.” 

Rob proudly points out a wall in reception, which is decorated by magazine covers showcasing Dambuster's games, as evidence of their outstanding progress. “Our work has become really popular over the years. Titles like Dead Island now have a loyal fanbase, and have set us up for success. This is cause for optimism going forward,” he says. 

Our work has become really popular over the years. Titles like Dead Island now have a loyal fanbase, and have set us up for success

However, the studio’s history hasn’t been without its challenges. “There have been ups and downs. We’ve changed names three times, which may have diluted our identity a bit. I think people sometimes forget that staff here actually worked on a number of titles when we were Crytek and Free Radical. But I don’t think it takes too much weight from us. Overall we’ve been really successful.”  

Despite switching names and moving headquarters (their original studio was based “just off junction 25 of the M1”), their philosophy has remained the same. “We want to make sure people receive a high quality game and make good memories. Whatever we do, we want to offer value for time as well as money,” Rob says. “We have developed a technical pedigree, and we are looking to build upon our expertise. We are a one-project studio built for narrative-driven, first-person games, and we are aiming to improve our reputation and keep moving forward to higher levels.” 

Building a studio with such an impressive reputation is not always easy, with Rob having to handle a lot of moving parts in his role. “Managing a gaming studio is both stressful and very enjoyable. The trick is to ensure efficient communication. The amount of features and content we deal with is massive,” he explains. “When I started in the gaming industry, over 25 years ago, I was in a small office of six people. Since then, the complexity of games, and the industry as a whole, has expanded. We have 160 staff across four or five key departments, so we need to maintain communication to keep up with the constant changes.” 

A decent number of these staff are from Nottingham, including Rob himself, which is something he’s very proud of. “I’m Nottingham born and bred. I started my career in the city before moving away, and then came back to Dambuster about five years ago. A good number of us are from here. There are even a few of us who went to the same school in Carlton, which is quite funny,” he muses. 

“Overall we have a nice range of people at the company. As the industry has grown, we’ve hired from further afield to make sure we’re building towards long-term success. Around a quarter of our staff are from Europe, and they’ve been great for bringing new skills and expertise.” 

Rob is equally enthusiastic about Nottingham’s gaming industry as a whole, which he believes is on the up. “At the moment it’s positive for gaming in Nottingham. There is a huge amount of talent in the city. In the past, we’ve been a little overshadowed by Leamington Spa, which has studios like Ubisoft and Playground,” he reveals. “But now there is healthy competition here, with lots of great studios. We are the only ones really focused on AAA games, but others in Nottingham are doing impressive things in different areas. There’s a broad range of competitors, which is definitely good.” 

The rapid transformation of Nottingham’s gaming community is representative of the wider industry, which has changed dramatically in recent years - and will continue to in the future. “Options in the industry are always expanding. There is a new generation of home consoles coming through in the next couple of years. Streaming continues to remove barriers to entry, with new players like Google entering the scene. Virtual Reality has been building for a while, and mobile phone games will remain popular as there are still new markets to exploit.” 

For Rob, this growth in choice can only be a positive thing: “I don't necessarily think we will lose many of the platforms that we have at the moment, there'll just be a broad spectrum of options which will be far more accessible - and that’s good for everyone.”

 

dsdambuster.com

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