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April 9, 2021 | News

How Guildford became the Hollywood of Games

How Guildford became the Hollywood of Games

The game industry began thirty years ago at Surrey Research Park. Since then, Guildford has widely been proclaimed the ‘Hollywood of Games’, a world leader in games development, home to over 60 games studios and around 3,000 of the most skilled programmers in the world.

Vicki Fletcher, Marketing Manager at Surrey Research Park takes a look at the emergence of the vibrant digital creative sector in Guildford.

How did it begin?

In 1991, two entrepreneurs, Peter Molyneux and Les Edgar started Bullfrog Productions, a small computer games company located at Surrey Technology Centre, which caters for start-ups with flexible letting arrangements designed to facilitate company growth. This enterprising support ecosystem made Surrey Research Park a compelling prospect for the ambitious entrepreneurs, enviably located near to London and benefiting from the link with the University of Surrey and its Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) that had opened only 5 years earlier in 1985.

Scaling Fast Bullfrog Productions made an auspicious start, producing the game Populous which remains one of the best-selling PC games of all times to the tune of four million copies sold. With their flair for creating popular games and maximising market opportunities, they continued to develop innovative and high-quality games, successfully rolling out their creations to Nintendo and Sega. Bullfrog Productions rapidly expanded its workforce to around 60 and was able to scale up fast within the Park, as it quickly outgrew the start-up centre to reside in its own offices in Nugent Road. After a dizzying spell of growth and success, Bullfrog Productions was acquired by American video game company, Electronic Arts in 1995 which then relocated its office in Guildford.

Skillset Magnet

The opportunity for gifted game industry developers from around the world to develop their careers at Surrey Research Park snowballed, attracting more companies and further fuelling demand for new talent.

In the early to mid-90s, Surrey Research Park’s fast-growing Gaming tenant list also included Criterion Studios, a spin-out from Canon Incs. which was founded by David Lau-Kee. Again taking advantage of the flexibility and scope to quickly scale-up on the Park, within a year the company had expanded to 36 head-count. Electronic Arts, keeping its eye on successful companies within the area, swiftly acquired Criterion Studies in 2004, resulting in the decision to close its Chertsey studio to consolidate and expand its expertise and resources within Guildford. The city was fast securing its reputation as a global hub for the Gaming sector.

The Microsoft Effect

Meanwhile, serial entrepreneur Peter Molyneux, dubbed the Godfather of Guildford Games, left Electronics Arts to set up Lionhead Studios, again locating in Surrey Research Park in 1997 before the company was acquired by Microsoft Studios in 2006. This sale to Microsoft triggered a surge in entrepreneurial activity within the region as many of Lionhead’s highly talented game developers started their own games development studios. Companies such as Media Molecule and Two Point Studios were founded by employees from Lionhead Studios. Peter Molyneux also went on to found 22cans in 2012 which remains at Surrey Research Park today.

Fuelling Growth in the game industry

Throughout this period, academics at the University of Surrey’s CVVSP had created many effective partnerships and collaborative initiatives with industry partners within the region. Links with two creatives, Neil Jonson and Ben Ward, resulted in the formation in 2016 of Rocketdesk in Surrey Research Park, a co-working space for start-up creative technology companies. In addition, planning permission was granted for the creation of a 5G linked Virtual Reality suite on Nugent Road. This dynamic environment for likeminded individuals encouraged further growth and collaborations with up to 50 young games companies across a wide range of areas including games creation, app development and Virtual Reality (VR) solutions – all of which are now present on the Park.

As we approach the 30th year since we welcomed our first Guildford Gaming tenant, we are proud to take a moment to reflect and celebrate a sector that has since grown to be worth £90 million in the UK in 2019/20. Underpinned by an established and highly esteemed local network of industry and academia, it has achieved over £1 billion of international foreign direct investment and continues to grow and innovate at an incredible pace.

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