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GameHorizon: Making Splash Damage Into A Triple-A Studio

At the UK's GameHorizon conference, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood (Quake Wars, Brink) explained how a ragtag gang of modders became one of the UK's strongest indies -- and why staff is your most important asset.
Kicking off the second day of the Game Horizon conference in Newcastle, UK, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood explained how the one-time ragtag gang of modders has grown into one of the UK's strongest independent developers. "Our rules of engagement for the business were don't work on movie licenses, don't work on ports, don't do work for hire, and find a big brother to nurture us in those early years," he explained. That certainly worked in terms of the company's close relationship with id Software, for whom it worked on projects such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein multiplayer and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. In turn, this led to another decision early in the company's life: the most successful studios only have one game in development at any one time for one publisher. "That's how you get focus," Wedgwood said. "We made a decision to shamelessly pursue critical acclaim for our games and we do that by focusing all our effort on making sure the stuff we do is better than the stuff we did." That includes everything from box artwork to screenshots and marketing materials. "You need to be triple-A in everything you do, from the making sure the copyright year is correct on your website to using the correct logo in your legal document," he said. However, Splash Damage's new title, Brink, due 2010 for publisher Bethesda, is its first console release. Making the jump from a PC-only studio has been a defining point in its history. "We looked around at the company and saw we were all hardcore PC multiplayer guys," Wedgwood said. "We knew we would come unstuck with console development, and so decided we would have to hire. We used recruitment consultants and went out aggressively to find talent from around the world." The company has since doubled its headcount, and now also has its own internal PR, HR and marketing staff. Indeed, investing in staff was one of the mantras of Wedgwood's talk. "People are the only important asset you have," he said. "You must focus on hiring the best people. Only hire people who are better than you -- because guess what? They have better ideas than you." Indeed Wedgwood was so enthusiastic about the subject -- "I can't believe I love recruitment consultants," he said at one point -- that the company has added another goal to its shamelessly pursuit of critical acclaim. "Become Europe's best employer. It's only a small thing," Wedgwood said. "The team is where your company's real value lies."

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