You mentioned going back into a consultant role during the Tower Studios hiatus. How would you sum up that time in terms of accomplishments?
Codemasters got me back into Sensible Soccer 2006 as a consultant working with David Darling, which was a lot of fun and a lot better than the [Sensible Soccer] ’98 3D version we did. Not as good as the current one we’re working on, but a really good stepping stone. I also worked with a company in Ukraine called Nikitova, which was interesting for me. This was very much consulting to try and help a company that mainly did art and programming outsourcing in their games development department. There are about 30 guys in the development department and about 250 overall, I think. I helped them to get contracts and licenses, to design the games and to help them run their development. We did things like M&M’s Adventure game, Showtime Boxing or Casper’s [the Friendly Ghost] Scare School.
In 2009, you joined Jagex, the makers of the cult browser MMORPG Runescape – not in a creative role, but as their head of production. Why the role shift?
Basically, I’ve always done different things. As well as the odd piece of music I did all of the game art for the first seven years of Sensible; although I’ve done no real game art to shout about since. The last art I did was for Sensible Soccer and Wizkid and I’ve not done any really since. Although I use art all the time to show people what I want to do design-wise. My other main focuses have always been game design and business. I’ve done all the contracts and all the deals for as long as I can remember. It’s always been me working on it externally with companies and internally with people working for the company. And very much at Nikitova, I was doing that for two years in Ukraine. I was helping a company that hadn’t much experience getting contracts and running the development. I learnt to take my skills out of my own company and apply them to someone else’s company.
And now to your question about 2009 and what happened. It is quite simple. At the end of 2008, I’d been six years building up a consulting business. I actually had three clients, a really brilliant business, great income, good projects and it was all going swimmingly. In December 2008, the economical world crash happened and I lost three clients in one week. All of my clients ran out of money simultaneously, which was great [chuckles]. So 2009 started and I didn’t have anything more to do. I can’t remember the order in which this happened. Jagex is very close to my house – it’s 25 to 30 minutes up the road. I can’t remember how the opportunity occurred, but I went there to work as a head of production. There’s three people at the top of the company. Mark Gerhard was CEO, and had been CTO. There was a guy called Riaan [Hodgson], who was running the the financial side. I can’t remember the name of the two brothers who ran Jagex now, that’s really terrible [Andrew and Paul Gower].
Anyway, the main brother was technical and wanted me to oversee the products they were expanding out from not just doing Runescape. Oh, Andrew was his first name! Still can’t remember his second name. I am getting old now, can’t remember some details [chuckles]. So, they took me on as a fourth person to steer the production and I got my teeth into it. We’re talking about the website, which needed updating first, then looking at the other two or three big projects that they had in the background. Then they had something called ‘Fun Orb’ with about 30 smaller games. I was taking all this in. Then very shortly – about a week or two in – they realized they’d have to share a lot of financial information with me to do my job and they didn’t want to do that.
Wow, that’s an interesting twist. So what did they do about it?
They moved me to a different role which was overseeing the Fun Orb thing, the 30 games. The problem was, I was put in an office with another guy called Mark Faulkner. Putting me in that office put his nose out of joint, cause he was running that department too. So we sat there next to each other, kind of uncomfortably, only because we were both effectively put in the same kind of role. Then the company did some personality profiling and I came out as the person who was the most dominant in the group – because I’ve been running my business my whole life, that’s why. I’m used to leading and blah blah blah… and within two weeks, they asked me to leave.
That’s actually what happened. Jagex is a really weird company, it’s very security conscious, kind of paranoid. Everyone had two computers on their desk. No one was allowed to use their main work computer at all to go on the Internet. I found it a bit like working in communist China under that old management – which has changed since, so I can say that. But yeah, it was a weird experience.