Ah, the South Coast: the tide lapping against the wooden boardwalk, the smell of salt and vinegar wafting from a nearby cafe, and of course, the sound of dozens of two pence pieces clattering off a ledge into the hands of a lucky child. Games are as much a part of the character and charm of the South Coast as royal holiday homes, pride celebrations and 99s, but fairground amusements are only part of the story. As well as claw machines and penny pushers, the South Coast was once home to the biggest quiz game series on the market and was also where you’d find the next big thing in virtual stunt racing.
Now the CEO of local games companies Electric Square and Studio Gobo, Tony Beckwith made the move to the South Coast in January 1999 with the idea of founding a new game development hub outside of London. He opened a studio called Pixel Planet with the intent of specialising in racing games and by the end of the year the studio was snapped up by Portsmouth’s Climax Studios, becoming Climax Brighton in the process. Beckwith’s team stayed true to its goal and produced more than a dozen racing games in its near ten year run, focusing primarily on off-road and MotoGP games. The studio went through two further name changes – first to Climax Racing in 2004, then to Black Rock Studios in 2007 following an acquisition by Buena Vista Games in 2007 – and it’s the regretfully short lived final incarnation that’s best remembered today. Named after a historic part of Brighton that once sported an Art Deco outdoor swimming pool, Black Rock developed two innovative and critically acclaimed original racing games – the stunt-driven quad bike game Pure and Split/Second, a multiplayer racer built around explosive cinematic set pieces. Neither game troubled the charts quite as much as Buena Vista (now Disney Interactive Studios) would have liked, so Black Rock was shuttered in 2011.
While Beckwith upped sticks from London entirely, another team – Computer Artworks – operated between the capital and Brighton. Established by multi-disciplinary computer artist William Latham, Computer Artworks made only two games: a psychedelic action game about warring alien species called Evolva and a well received and innovative survival horror based on John Carpenter’s The Thing. When the company shut down in 2003, employees David Amor and Andrew Eades decided to start their own games studio in Brighton, called Relentless Software.
Relentless’s first undertaking was to finish a piece of music software for Sony called DJ: Decks and FX that had been under development at Computer Artworks. Having successfully seen that project through, Sony came back to Relentless with the idea of making a music quiz game pitched at casual mainstream audiences. What Relentless dreamed up was Buzz! The Music Quiz, a TV game show you could play from your living room. As well as piggybacking on a familiar format, Buzz! came packaged with four specially designed, highly simplified controllers meaning anyone to easily take part. The game was a surprise Christmas hit, selling over one million copies and spawning a long running Buzz! series that won several industry awards as well as a BAFTA for Best Casual and Social Game. After 13 Buzz! titles and a Microsoft Kinect game made for National Geographic, Relentless closed its doors in 2016 but remains highly thought of on account of its company culture and committed no crunch policy.
If there’s one thing that anyone in the games industry knows about Brighton, it’s Develop. The UK’s biggest developer-focused conference, Develop has brought together games industry professionals from the UK, Europe and further afield since 2006 and has hosted some of the biggest names in game development, including Todd Howard, Jade Raymond and Hideo Kojima. The annual event continues to be an essential place to make connections in the industry, and you’ll frequently hear developers sharing stories about how they signed their publishing deal or landed their next games job in Brighton.
Of course you don’t hold an event like Develop without having plenty of games jobs in the area and the South Coast has just that. As mentioned above, industry veteran Tony Beckwith leads two studios in the area, Studio Gobo in Hove and the Brighton-based spin-off Electric Square. Both teams operate on a work-for-hire model and have worked with clients like Microsoft and Disney. Two other veterans in the area are Climax Studios in Portsmouth and Traveller’s Tales. Opened in 2018, TT Brighton is a mobile games developer that has so far been occupied with bringing its parent studio’s LEGO franchise to phones.
Another relatively new arrival in the area is Hanger 13, the internal 2K games studio hailing from California responsible for Mafia III. The Brighton arm of Hanger 13 works closely with three other studios across the world while also collaborating with other 2K studios on a range of AAA titles.
Smaller than the above teams but every bit as renowned is The Chinese Room. Pioneers of the so-called walking sim genre, The Chinese Room have made some of the most accomplished artistic contributions to the medium in recent history, including Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and the multi-award winning Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The team was recently acquired by the Sumo Group after a brief hiatus and continues to grow in its second lease of life.
There’s also a bounty of mid-sized teams dotted around the South Coast. Short Round, an independent developer that’s published four original IP including futuristic racer RGX Showdown, are what’s colloquially known as a “Black Pebble” i.e. a team composed of Black Rock alumni. Brightrock (no Black Rock connection, despite the name) are a multicultural development team with a British sense of humour. In Portsmouth is Freejam, makers of free-to-play hit Robocraft, while Futurlab in Hove have worked extensively with PlayStation platforms (including PS VR) and developed the well-received television tie-in Peaky Blinders: Mastermind. Boss Alien and West Pier, meanwhile, are both mobile game specialists, the former belonging to the Zynga family while the latter have worked with Sony and Phillips.
Lastly, Unity has a large office in central Brighton that houses several teams across a wide range of disciplines, including support, engineering, R&D and more.
As an area that thrives on tourism, the South Coast has plenty of obvious attractions: the beaches, the amusements, the Royal Pavilion, the Russell-Cotes Museum, countless bars and restaurants… But what about actually living there?
A haven for creative types and home to a massive and historic LGBTQ+ community, the South Coast is a multicultural, progressive-leaning area that boasts many of the perks and conveniences of metropolitan life with better scenery and a healthier working culture. And if you do miss the rush hour commute, London’s less than an hour away.
Infact, London’s so close you could even cycle there, as many do annually during the London to Brighton Cycle Ride. Along with Develop, it’s just one in a packed calendar of yearly events, including The Great Escape, one of the UK’s leading music festivals, the Brighton Festival, and the Artists Open House.
Game enthusiasts can of course take a nostalgic trip to Brighton Pier for a traditional British arcade experience, but there’s plenty of more up-to-date alternative options too. Channeling heavy San Junipero vibes, The World’s End is a vast, neon-lit arcade bar with it’s own RC car raceway. Taking drinking games to the next level, contestants in The World’s Raceway race for supremacy behind steering wheels on stage mounted bucket seats while the crowd below gather around the track to show support, all of the action relayed by a live commentator.
Inventors of the Super Mario 3D Land cocktail, which includes fried mushrooms as a garnish, Loading Bar has a mixture of retro video games and boardgames to try – all of it free to patrons. They also host an introduction to Dungeons and Dragons workshop called D&D 101 as well as the monthly Women in Games Drinks meetup.
Brighton is well known for its independent shops and of course that extends to games retailers too. Baka Neko specialises in imported Japanese goods, including anime and video games merchandise. If obscure collectibles are your thing, this where you’ll find the rarest stuff and the friendliest service. Anime fans will also want to check out Portsmouth Anime and Gaming Con, which holds yearly film screenings, video game tournaments and cosplay competitions.
We’ve already mentioned Develop and Women in Games Drinks but you should also have
Brighton Indie Gamedev Events on your radar. The meetup group hosts weekly coffee mornings open to anyone working games jobs in the South Coast as well as a once a month evening pub meet.