2016 CTO of the Year
Rebellion® is one of the top independent video game developer-publishers in Europe. Based in Oxford in the UK, the studio was founded in 1992 by Chris Kingsley, with his brother Jason as CEO and Creative Director. Over the subsequent 24 years, the duo has led the way in developing and publishing a string of worldwide Number One hits. Their runaway gaming successes is littered with notable titles, including Aliens Vs Predator, Rainbow Six, The Simpsons Game, and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron.
As Chris relates his career milestones before Rebellion, it is clear that he entered the videogame industry at a major benchmark in its history. By 1992, arcade fighting games were very much the forte; Street Fighter II had enjoyed success at the Golden Joystick Awards, as well as the Electronic Gaming Awards, and the Mortal Kombat arcade game hit the North American market. With Sega’s release of the Model 1 came a new era of popular 3d polygon graphics.
“I studied Chemistry at Oxford,” he regales, “but I was entirely self-taught in computers and programming. After doing some post-graduate research I started to freelance programming video games with my brother Jason.
“Rebellion was our first ‘proper’ job, and as soon as we got our first contract to make a game we had to begin to take more of a management role, recruiting the best people we could, and steering games to be both critically and commercially successful.”
Today, as co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Rebellion, Chris is responsible for guiding the company’s current and future technology. This involves setting and driving the current technology the company develops internally, exploring new technology trends, and experimenting with all kinds of new business opportunities.
Having been in this position since Day 1, and having observed the way that Rebellion has grown within the ever-changing gaming industry, he remarks upon the ways in which his company has responded. To begin with, an increasingly competitive market, with numerous new studios throwing their names into the ring, required an adjustment in Chris’ approach to publishing games.
“We were originally known for working with big-name licenses for multi-national publishers,” Chris says. This was especially the case when working on games with movie tie-ins; their seminal Alien vs Predator, for instance, was published in 1997 by Fox Interactive, while 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published by Electronic Arts and distributed by Warner Bros.
“Since then, though, we have successfully transitioned to a self-publishing model, where we only develop our own games and IP. While we still make games that sell on store shelves, digital distribution has allowed us to reach tens of millions of gamers throughout the globe.”
This is especially the case for the Sniper Elite series. 2015, a year after the release of Sniper Elite III, marked the tenth anniversary of the series, as well as its 10-millionth sale. Sniper Elite 4, which will be released on Valentine’s Day 2017, is expected to further enhance the franchise’s reputation for emergent, open-ended gameplay, with myriad opportunities for unique experiences and, crucially, a huge ‘replay’ factor. This can only be good news for the future of Rebellion.
“There are disruptions and disruptors everywhere,” Chris acknowledges. “Relationships with other industry leaders to share knowledge are obviously hugely important for us, and we’re lucky in video games that most developers see each other as colleagues, not rivals. However, it’s good to look outside your own industry as well.” To underpin this philosophy, Chris will soon be attending a conference on Artificial Intelligence in the workplace.
To get an edge in this fluctuating industry, Chris has seen fit to diversify his studio’s reach, spreading their base to touch other audiences and guarantee their independence. While primarily known for their game publications, he and his brother own and publish the famed British sci-fi comic 2000 AD, along with a slew of genre book imprints. As a further feather in their cap, the two brothers were Executive Producers on the revived Dredd film.
Chris has also gone above and beyond his work within Rebellion, to work alongside his brother in representing the gaming industry on a national level in an effort to remove the stigma around gaming and help others to realise its true value. “Even now, computer games are still considered by some as just being for kids, despite the games industry being worth more than film and music combined. We’ve worked hard to dispel this myth by developing all kinds of games for different people.
“At one point, Jason and I realised that nobody was really speaking on behalf of the games industry in the UK, despite the contribution it made to the economy. That is why we co-founded The Independent Games Developers Association (TIGA), the industry body that represents UK games development.”
TIGA has a very effective track record of successful campaigning on issues that have a real effect on UK games developers – they recently secured games tax credits to help UK games to thrive on a global level, just as film and other art forms have received funding. “That was a huge step, having the Government recognise games as a pillar of the Creative Arts,” and one that Chris hopes will see British gaming companies able to flourish further.
Only recently, the UK gaming industry’s hugely competitive and mutable nature has claimed great studios like Lionhead, Evolution and Blitz, because of ever-shifting markets and business models. These were companies that made great, commercially successful hits in the past, but had found it difficult to adjust in a fluctuating environment.
In Chris’ view, however, the challenges associated with surviving as a UK-based gaming company appealing to a global audience are not worth over-thinking. “We try hard to stay just ahead of the curve – riding the technological shockwave, if you like.
“It is crucial to keep up with the latest technology trends – the games business is truly global, digital and hugely competitive. The keys are constant vigilance, always pushing creativity and technology as far as we can, and using our own technology base for agile and rapid development. I think Rebellion has thrived because we try to avoid using third-party tech wherever possible. It might need more investment in the short term, but it reduces your risk in the long run and allows you to react much more quickly to new opportunities, and your technology can be made to fit exactly what you want to do.”
Later this year, Rebellion will release Battlezone on PlayStation VR. This represents their first foray into the burgeoning world of Virtual Reality gaming. Chris sees this bold new frontier as a great example of an embodiment of his business philosophy.
“My philosophy is fairly simple - I help set the direction of our teams, but we empower staff to be creative and run their own projects autonomously.
“I think Battlezone – our launch title for PlayStation VR game coming out in October – is a great example of this. I was hugely influenced by the original Battlezone arcade game released in 1980, and wanted to see the IP rebooted. VR was just taking off so there was an opportunity for our engine team to cut their teeth on a new challenge, making virtual reality work!
“And so a new Battlezone project was born! It’s now very much in the hands of our staff - many of whom have their own interpretation of what a Battlezone reboot should look like in 2016.
“I think I add most value to Rebellion by helping the teams decide not necessarily just what should be done, but also what should not be done, and then helping them work out the very best way to do it all with our technology. Sometimes a brand new technological development – such as VR – can drive creativity as well.”
Chris certainly doesn’t find it difficult to be excited about video games – he is just as passionate about the industry now as he was when he was a teenager. The only difference he really notes now is that he gets to make them as well as play them. “The great thing is that as technology progresses, we can become ever more ambitious in the scale and realism of the games we can make, and to be successful you can’t stand still.
“The fact we’re completely independent, and only work for ourselves on our own IP, means we’ve reached a crucial milestone already – like reaching Everest basecamp, if you will.
“From here, it’s about developing the best multi-platform technology, so that in five years’ time we can safely say that we are making the most ambitious games and creative projects of our career, and making them available to as many people on as many devices as possible.”
Company: Rebellion Developments
Phone: 01865 792201
Web Address: www.rebellion.com
Address: Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES