The Euro Vision: Silverback Morphs Into Swordfish

The activity in this edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The Euro Vision' column is close to home for journalist Jon Jordan, as a new Vivendi studio sets up in his Manchester domicile
The activity in this edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The Euro Vision' column is close to home for journalist Jon Jordan, as a new Vivendi studio sets up in his Manchester domicile. Elsewhere, however, he’s still trying to decipher the process by which a shipped console becomes installed. "Sometimes as a columnist you look back at a previous week’s thread and wish you’d never started the discussion. It’s perhaps not quite at that stage yet with the cans of worms I opened last week on the subject of how accurate the shipping or sell-through figures quoted by hardware companies are, but it soon could be. The first development comes courtesy of Microsoft’s Robbie Bach. Of course, it would be nice to say he dropped a mail into the Euro Vision inbox, but considering our lowly status, like everyone else, we just lifted the quote from his interview with Microsoft confident Dean Takahashi. When asked whether Microsoft had met its much heralded target of selling 10 million Xbox 360s before Sony had sold one PlayStation 3, Bach was reported as saying: “Yeah. In our case, it’s reasonably close to sold through. To make sure we’re clear, Sony does shipped from factory. We don’t. Our shipped means it has left a distribution warehouse in Memphis to a retailer. There is a big lag of six week to eight-week lag between what we called shipped and what Sony calls shipped. That’s the way we do the accounting.” Of course, there are still caveats. Notably, this still means Microsoft’s figures aren’t sell-through to consumers, only to retailers. Clearly the company has no idea how much of its product is sitting around in Gamestop or Wal-Mart regional warehouses and stockrooms. There’s also the question of how this is reflected in non-North American sales, which in the case of Xbox 360 means Europe. Presumably, in that situation, Microsoft’s shipping figures refer to units sold and shipped to Microsoft’s Europe distribution warehouse? This one could run and run. Nation Of Two Million Getting back to our official European beat, Nintendo continues to throw out big sales figures too. After last week’s announcement of a seven million European DS install base, this week it’s claiming a UK DS and DS Lite install base of two million units. This time however, the figures come courtesy of Chart Track, an independent sales tracking company, which calculates them based on figures from shops’ daily sales reports. Once again, they’re not completely accurate, as Chart Track doesn’t take numbers from all UK retailers, and hence such figures are best used for comparative rather than absolute analysis for compiling charts, which is what they are generally used for. Still, assuming they roughly tally with last week’s seven million, this ranks the UK as accounting for around 29 percent of the European DS market, which seems to correlate with previous figures concerning the size of the UK market vis a vis the rest of Europe. These placed the UK as the largest European market for console games, at 41 percent of the total, as well as handheld gaming, at 35 percent. So, actually, if anything Nintendo’s figures suggest the DS has been better accepted outside of the UK than typical portable consoles, which generally would equate to the DS’ appeal to what we’d call non-gamers. Of course, this could just be a disconnect due to the lag between Nintendo’s shipping figures and Chart-Track’s sales figures... (Time to stop it already, m’thinks.) Local Gorilla Goes Aquatic Another ongoing Euro Vision thread we’ve come back to pick at is the closure of EA’s Warrington Studio. Although not directly related, another company, the Vivendi-owned UK studio Swordfish, has decided to open a new studio operation in the same area. “We were committed to this long before EA made their announcement,” explains Swordfish’s MD Trevor Williams [pictured], “although that did give us the opportunity to hire a few great people.” In actual fact, the core of Swordfish’s new Manchester team is from another local studio, Silverback. It, in turn, was spun out of Acclaim’s Manchester office, following the publisher’s demise, as it had an ongoing game in production. That game, gangster shooter Made Man, was released in the autumn in the UK, leaving the Silverback team looking around for work. With Swordfish expanding, Trevor Williams, who’s had plenty of experience of development in the North West of England during his time with Liverpool publisher Rage, was quick to take the opportunity. “Manchester historically had a number of large development studios, as did Liverpool,” he says. “There is a lot of talent in the M62 corridor area [the M62 is the road between Manchester and Liverpool], many of whom do not want to relocate. We want to hire them. It’s as simple as that.” Heading up Swordfish Manchester will be Mike Delves, Silverback’s studio manager, although Williams is careful not to give away much about what they’ll be working on. “The guys in Manchester will be working closely with some of our other internal studios,” he says. “They do have their own project, which is very cool, and we can offer resource and help in lots of ways to make that happen even with a smaller team.” More generally, Williams is also enthusiastic about working as an in-house studio for Vivendi, which bought Swordfish, then an independent, in June 2005 for an undisclosed sum. “It’s created a stable, well resourced platform on which to build our new title,” he explains. “In many ways, things have changed less than I expected. We still have a great deal of autonomy and are able to aim for much higher production values than were ever possible as an independent studio. I guess in a way there are no excuses now. We have been given every opportunity to make a great game.” He also says it’s been a positive experience working with Vivendi’s other in-house studios such as Radical, High Moon and Massive. “While there is massive geographic diversity, we actually work together quite closely. There are no egos amongst the Vivendi Games studios, which is refreshing and makes it fun.”" [Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He personally accounts for 0.000001th of the UK’s DS install base.]

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