A sense of humour certainly helps in an industry as unpredictable as this one. Ahead of his talk at this year’s Develop conference, in which he’s set to discuss his company’s history, Relentless Software CEO Andrew Eades jokes with self-effacing modesty that “you can probably compress it into: ‘We made Buzz.’” And yet there’s far more to a studio that’s survived a decade in gaming’s turbulent waters. We talk to Eades to find out how Relentless has adapted to the industry’s evolution.
Buzz is a major part of your history, but it wasn’t an immediate success, was it?
I’ve got my own theories on this – and I’m sure Sony marketing would say something different – but we designed the first Buzz game with Christmas Day very much in mind. And once friends and families started playing it at social events during that period, that’s when people went out and bought it in January. We released it in October, and you’re right, it was a bit of a slow burn. Obviously, back then we didn’t have any telemetry, so we didn’t have any idea when people unboxed it and started playing it, but we think a lot of [its success] was basically down to word of mouth. And then it just sold for an astonishing number of weeks – I think it was in the top 20 for over a year.
Buzz came out the same kind of era as Guitar Hero, and Singstar had been before us, so there was a definite move to broader content. As [Sony UK boss] Ray Maguire put it, “I’ve sold as many PlayStation 2s as I can to gamers; we need to find a new audience,” and that’s what we were looking for. When we founded Relentless, we were thinking there was a great opportunity on PS2. It was cheap, and lots of people were buying it as a DVD player. We wanted to focus on people who weren’t naturally gamers but we could entertain.
Do you feel you were ahead of the curve in that regard?
Yeah, we were. I mean, the reason I joined Computer Artworks [the company at which Eades met Relentless co-founder David Amor] was to make content for non-gamers. We started with DJ: Decks & FX, which wasn’t really a game, just virtual decks. But I went to Three, the mobile phone network, because I believed that everyone would have a broadband-connected mobile gaming device in their pockets – and it turns out I was right, I was just about five years early. Now we’re making games for devices that people just have: they don’t buy them because they’re gamers, they simply have them and therefore they play games on them.
You’ve enjoyed some success on the App Store with crime drama The Trace. Do you think that Apple is pushing premium games a little harder these days?
Well, I believe all the platform holders, Apple included, want to showcase their formats. It’s the same with Sony and Microsoft, who we’ve worked very closely with: they want their platform to look better than everyone else’s, and they’re going to showcase the best stuff they can, quite rightly. And you can do it with a small team or a bigger team – The Trace had up to 15 people at one point, so it’s a [comparatively] bigger production, but then I believe in quality. I’d rather try to make really high-quality games than churn out a load of low-quality games. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
As someone who actively supports the British game industry, do you think it’s in a strong position now?
I think it’s different! I don’t think we could call it the same industry, really. I mean, it’s changed so radically. From [Relentless’s] point of view, I think we’ve been really good at adapting. Part of my job is to try to think a few years ahead, to prepare us for what I believe is happening. I was saying for a long time, “Console’s dead, guys – we’ve got to think about moving.” And it wasn’t like I wanted [consoles] to be dead, I just recognised we were going to struggle in the PlayStation 3 generation.
Yet you’re currently making a game for PS4 and Xbox One.
[Laughs] Yeah, can’t help it, can I? The thing is, we’ve now got open console platforms. And it’s in our DNA to make something that entertains a group of people in a living room, so it would be churlish not to make a game for those platforms. We’re using all our experience in self-publishing, digital distribution, mobile and Unity together to hopefully make a really great game.
What does Develop mean to you?
It’s where the game industry from the UK and farther afield gathers to talk about games, discuss the challenges ahead and celebrate some of the successes. I’ve been on the advisory board from day one – because I’m local, I reckon – and the game community in Brighton is pretty strong and pretty good.