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The Euro Vision: Is In The Place To Be

In a somewhat summery/lateral aside to the The Euro Vision’s usual business focus, an accidental encounter sees Jon Jordan considering a potted history of local Manchester game development, thanks to the different inhabitants (from Ocean to Image Metrics)
Sometimes as a columnist you work hard to try to craft a story, while other times, you have no idea what's going on, only to discover something as it bumps into you as you walk down the road. And so it was that Jay Sharples stuck his leg out as I wandered across Manchester's St Peter's Street. Jay could be considered something of a North East England game biz face. Strangely, perhaps, I've only ever met him three times, but all of them have been significant enough to be strung out into a column. Of course, as a journalist who's made his way through PR into game development - producer & product development manager and now creative director - Jay could be considered a role model (for people interested in such things), but in the context of this column, it's enough to thank him for taking a 4pm cigarette break and shouting something rude at me as I wandered gormless past him on the way to the bank. Location, Location, Location To backtrack three or so years, the first time I met Jay was after I'd just moved up to Manchester. A mile up the road from where I lived was a mobile phone developer/publisher called iFone. I knew its head of marketing, Enda Carey, as he'd also been involved in the WipeOut PlayStation games at Sony. On hearing I'd moved to Manchester, he invited me for a meeting. Jay somehow tagged along. Now the reason this meeting is important for the column is nothing to do with either me, Enda or Jay. Instead, it's a justification for the argument that even in the Internet world, location matters. The reason is iFone had its offices in a particular building in Castlefield, an area in Manchester, renowned for its historic canal system. Indeed, Castlefield was where the only Roman fort in the local area was situated, which provided the name - The Castle-in-the-field - and where 1400 years later the terminus for the Bridgewater and Rochdale canals was sited, as well as being the location for the first intercity passenger railway system in the world. And let's face it, this was back when California, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon or Washington weren't even part of the United States. But that particular building in Castlefield - a place where barges originally offloaded their cargo - a couple of hundred years later become 2 Castle Street, Castlefield, Manchester M3 4LZ, the offices of UK publisher Ocean Software. As you'd expect from a UK publisher, it wasn't too long before Ocean was taken over by Infogrames, which eventually shut down its Manchester office, leaving various other game companies to take over the property. It ending up as the HQ of Acclaim's ill-fated Manchester studio. And that was when I flittered into its history, as at the time I meet up with Enda and Jay, iFone was situated in the top floor (the above photo is dated January 2004, which is why if you have very good eyesight you can see a Christmas tree). Accidental Encounters The next time I bumped into Jay demonstrated a more fluid side to my games location meme, it being the baggage claim at LAX, May 2005. To be completely honest, I couldn't remember who he was, so had to ask the usual searching questions such as 'How's work?' in the hope of working it out. By that stage, the curse of 2 Castle Street had struck again and iFone had just been bought out, becoming part of Glu Mobile. Enda had left, while Jay was heading out to E3 to meet up with the management of Glu and consider his options. Two years, and another accidental meeting later, Jay's now creative director at mobile/casual developer Rockpool. Recently bought by Eidos for £7.7 million ($15 million) plus various extra performance-related bonuses, it's developing mobile games for Eidos and Sega, and its SoGoPlay brand will become Eidos casual online portal, while its licensing arm is working on various Top Trumps-related PC and DS games for Ubisoft. Small wonder the company's expanding fast - it's already 70 strong - although it's yet to complete my cycle and move into 2 Castle Street; currently that location's being filled by games/movie motion technology specialist Image Metrics, which has worked on the likes of GTA: San Andreas, Metal Gear Solid 3, The Polar Express and Killzone. (I once bumped into its VP of business development on the train down to London, but that's another story entirely.) Anyhow, Jay whipped out his Sony Ericsson W880i, and gave me a quick demo of a version of a big console shooter game (mobile version as yet unannounced), that the company's working on, and we chatted about this and that. Frankly it was pleasant to have such a conversation out of the blue, without having to ping emails or deal with time zones and conference call login numbers. And the good news is, the longer anyone spends in the industry, the more likely these chance encounters become. After all, isn't that the raison d'etre of any conference? [Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He wouldn't have it any other way.]

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