Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight. This month, we talk to David Darling, CEO of Kwalee
Kwalee is a very different proposition from what Codemasters has become, but seems to have a lot in common with where you began with that company?
Kwalee certainly has the atmosphere that Codemasters had in the early years: extreme innovation, creativity and small teams working together. We’re developing games in weeks rather than years and I really enjoy that kind of atmosphere.
The other parallel is our desire to access the highest volume of players available. With budget games back then we were able to access a bigger chunk of the market, compared to full-price games. Now, with free-to-play, we’re dealing with super-high volume – we’ve passed more than half-a-billion downloads across our portfolio with many individual games well into the tens of millions.
The real satisfaction with this is the creative fulfillment that comes from reaching a massive, truly global audience.
What was the greatest single moment of your career to date?
The most surreal one was being invited to Buckingham Palace with my brother Richard to collect our CBEs. It felt totally bizarre having started making games in our bedrooms and somehow ending up in a taxi on the way to Buckingham Palace, being taught all these protocols about how you’re supposed to walk up to the Queen, and all that.
One of them was that you’re not supposed to ask her any questions, but I couldn’t resist asking if she liked computer games. She was too old for all that, she said, but her grandchildren loved them! Visiting the Queen was the biggest acknowledgement that the world had changed and that games were now recognised as being a big part of the entertainment sector – and people’s lives in general.
Do you think the UK games industry is in a healthy position?
I think it’s in an extremely healthy position with lots of hugely successful UK companies, and what’s really accelerated the growth over the past decade or so has been digital distribution. This has really opened up the entire global market to UK developers and publishers, allowing companies like Kwalee to grow significantly in a relatively short space of time – to the point where we’ve now got more than 100 team members and 101 current vacancies, from programming and marketing to data science and machine learning, and we’re embracing remote working all over the world.
We’ve got such experienced, talented people in the UK industry but in the beginning we were held back by just making games for the domestic market. Nowadays the mega publishers have less power because they can no longer dominate the market through brick-and-mortar retailers and shelf space; platforms like the App Store and Steam have created the environment for UK developers to flourish.
You recently announced a PC title, Eternal Hope, what’s your thinking for diversifying into PC and console publishing?
When we set up Kwalee in 2011, we never set out for it to be a mobile-only publisher. The strategy was to do 100 per cent digital distribution and digital marketing on any format, and we even tried platforms like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but obviously mobile has been where we’ve enjoyed our biggest successes so far.
We think that the time is right for us to try PC and console now because at the heart of the company, we just want to be very creative and innovative and we’ve never wanted to be platform-constrained.
We’ve been bolstered by the experience of Max Everingham, with whom I worked at Codemasters and has also been at other successful publishers including Ubisoft and Team17. With him, we’re building a dedicated team to help us publish all kinds of brilliant games on these platforms and we’re looking to talk to developers about opportunities to collaborate – just as we always are on the hyper-casual mobile side of things, too.