Reviving Warwickshire games scene after Blitz Games demise
When UK video game developer Blitz Games folded in 2013, the future looked bleak for its 175 staff.
The studio had been founded by the legendary Oliver Twins Andrew and Philip – creators of the Dizzy franchise – as Interactive Studios back in 1990.
Twenty-three years later and having “weathered numerous storms”, in the words of CEO Philip Oliver, the firm which played a major role in the gaming revolution in Warwickshire was suddenly no more.
One of its employees in Leamington Spa - just south of Coventry in the West Midlands - was project director Steve Stopps. He decided to do something about it.
“When Blitz Games Studios closed down, a bunch of us were already running meet-ups for local game developers,” he told BusinessCloud.
“In Leamington we’ve got 2,500 game developers. We started out with events in someone’s flat, where independent developers would meet up and share ideas and games.
“I spoke to Gayle Spencer (business enterprise manager at Warwick District Council), who looked after the arches [under the railway here], and asked if we could use one for the gatherings: 40-50 people were coming to them by that point.”
Arch Creatives was born. Warwickshire County Council allocated £1,500 of funding while the local district council gave it generous rate subsidies lasting for two years.
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The co-working space for developers and creatives quickly expanded into a second arch as it was running at full capacity.
“People at district and county level had the appetite to help us get this thing started,” Stopps continued. “The space was so successful we able to self-fund the move into the larger space.
“We had help: a leading mobile company were refurbishing their office and gave us their chairs – which can cost £300 each new – while UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) donated a 4K TV to us because we let them use the space for free.
“You can never put a value on going to events – you don’t know who you’ll meet and which little chains will be created.”
Like many co-working and hotdesking spaces – non-for-profit Arch Creatives charges 6p per minute or £26 per day with discounted deals for more regular clients – collaboration is its raison d’etre.
The space has given the local game development community a new lease of life.
“[Leading mobile developer] SEGA Hardlight were next door and we’d help them source people when they were looking for staff,” said Stopps, who also worked for mobile studio Lumo Developments from 2014-2016. “When they had their office refurb, we let them work in our arch.
“Due to our contacts, to start with the people coming here worked within the games industry – but we started getting more creatives such as copywriters. You never know what’ll happen when you put creatives together.
“We do weekly show-and-tells on Fridays so anyone can show what they’ve been working on for the past week. It creates a benchmark for people to mark their own progress – a soft competitiveness.
“We get Warwickshire College students bringing their projects in: it’s being reviewed amongst the work of professional developers, which is fantastic.”
Mary Matthews, founder of Medtech firm Memrica, worked with Stopps at Blitz Games. She describes him as a catalyst: “Add him to any situation and things happen.”
Things are certainly happening in Leamington Spa.