Many people might be surprised at just how many top-flight games are made in good old Blighty. The most famous example is Grand Theft Auto, made in Edinburgh (after starting in Dundee). The Batman: Arkham series is made in London, Elite Dangerous is made in Cambridge, and the Forza Horizon games are made in Leamington Spa. As might be expected, many games creators are based in the capital, but the UK developer map throws up a few surprises, too. Guildford in Surrey is an absolute hotbed of games development, playing host to Media Molecule, Criterion, Hello Games and Supermassive Games to name a few. The aforementioned Leamington Spa is also a bit of a developer paradise, boasting Codemasters, Ubisoft Leamington, Playground Games, and many more.
The UKIE Games Map lists more than 2,000 game developers and publishers in the UK, although many are absolutely tiny operations. For this list I’ve picked out what I think are the most notable developers of the moment, along with a few of their most recent or important games. (If you think there’s a developer I’ve omitted that really should be highlighted here, please let us know in the comments.) This list has to be selective rather than comprehensive, and does tend towards the larger teams, but for a snapshot of what the amazing UK indie games scene is producing, take a look at Kotaku UK’s comprehensive list of British Games of 2018.
The Trail, Godus, Curiosity – What’s Inside The Cube?
22Cans was formed in 2012 by industry veteran Peter Molyneux, the man behind Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Fable and numerous other classics. Curiosity was more of a marketing gimmick than a game, following which Godus in particular attracted its fair share of controversy, but The Trail has generally been well-received.
Minecraft (console editions)
Everyone knows that Minecraft was developed by Mojang, which was subsequently snapped up by Microsoft to the tune of $2.5 billion. But you might not know that 4J Studios in Dundee handled development of the console versions, starting with the Xbox 360. It recently converted Minecraft to the Nintendo Switch and New Nintendo 3DS.
CSR Racing, CSR Classics
When Black Rock Studio (developer of racing games like Pure and the criminally underrated Split/Second) was closed by Disney in 2011, several ex-employees formed Boss Alien and created CSR Racing. The game went on to dominate the mobile charts, and has been joined by CSR Classics, which features crumbly old cars that you subsequently soup up.
Purrfect Date, I Am Bread, Surgeon Simulator
Bossa Studios made a name for itself with the comically imprecise Surgeon Simulator, in which you attempt surgery with a deliberately and hilariously inadequate control system. Most recently it published Purrfect Date, a cat dating sim from the indie studio Bae Team.
Lola and the Giant, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Climax Studios has been going for 30 years, making it one of the oldest extant developers in the UK. One of its most notable titles was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii, an innovative remake in which the game changes according to how you respond to a psychological profile. Check out more about Climax’s recent forays into VR in this Britsoft Focus.
Leamington Spa, Birmingham, Runcorn
DiRT 4, F1 2017, Micro Machines World Series, Onrush
Codemasters is another long-running UK studio – founded way back in 1986 by the excellently named Darling brothers. In the 8-bit days it was most famous for the Dizzy series, before the wonderful multiplayer racing game Micro Machines – as well as the copyright-baiting Game Genie cheat device. Nowadays the studio is very much focused on racing titles, notably the DiRT and F1 series.
Total War: Warhammer II, Halo Wars 2, Total War: Attila, Alien: Isolation
Another long-running studio, Creative Assembly was formed in 1987, but spent its first decade of existence mostly porting games to different systems. The studio’s breakthrough came in 2000 with the release of Shogun: Total War, which spawned the long-running Total War series. The studio was also responsible for the critically adored but commercially underwhelming Alien: Isolation, which will probably still be the best Alien game ever made 20 years from now.
Star Wars: Battlefront – Rogue One: X-Wing VR, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Burnout series, Black
Founded in 1996, Criterion has specialised in racing games almost from the start. It was behind the Dreamcast launch title TrickStyle, but really made a name for itself with the release of Burnout in 2001. EA bought the studio in 2004, the same year that Burnout 3 launched, and since then Criterion has worked on several Need for Speed titles, as well as the peerless Burnout Paradise and a VR mission for Star Wars Battlefront II.
Homefront: The Revolution
Dambuster Studios is a new studio with a long history. It rose from the ashes of Free Radical Design, founded in 1998, which was the studio behind the Timesplitters series and the criminally underrated PS2 game Second Sight. After the poorly received Haze, the studio went into bankruptcy and was purchased by Crytek, subsequently being renamed Crytek UK. It worked on Crysis 2 and 3, and was developing Homefront: The Revolution when Crytek announced it was selling the Homefront licence to Koch Media, owned by publisher Deep Silver. The studio reemerged as Deep Silver Dambuster Studios and went on to finish making the game, although it’s unclear what they’re working on at the moment. Here’s hoping it’s Timesplitters 4. The internet petition starts here!
Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims, The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character
This wonderfully weird Welsh developer is behind a gaggle of fantastically named titles, most recently Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails – an on-rails shooter that’s literally on rails. The company recently announced Pop-Up Pilgrims, a VR platformer due out imminently, based on the quite lovely Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims.
The Room, Omega Agent
Fireproof Games is principally known for The Room, a creepy puzzle game for smartphones. It has just released the fourth game in the series – The Room: Old Sins – which going by Stephen Totilo's great writeup is the best yet.
Elite Dangerous, Planet Coaster, Jurassic World Evolution
Frontier Developments was founded in 1994 by David Braben, co-creator of the classic 1980s space-sim Elite. Its most important game is undoubtedly the sprawling MMO Elite Dangerous, but the studio is also behind the highly praised theme park sim Planet Coaster, as well as the upcoming Jurassic World Evolution, a theme park where the attractions fight back.
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle, Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom, Crazy Taxi: City Rush
Hardlight has built a reputation on making mobile Sonic games that often outshine their console counterparts. Its most recent release was the multiplayer runner game Sonic Forces: Speed Battle – its fifth Sonic game for mobiles.
No Man’s Sky, Joe Danger series
Hello Games was catapulted into the limelight thanks to the insane hype surrounding No Man’s Sky and, following the equally insane backlash, has subsequently dedicated itself (with considerable style and success) to producing regular updates and improvements for the game long since release. Here's a great Matt Wales piece on that process. Before NMS, it was behind the cartoony stuntman series Joe Danger, which began on console before spreading across mobile and spawning several nice sequels.
Prison Architect, Uplink, DEFCON, Darwinia, Multiwinia, Scanner Sombre
Formed in 2001, Introversion Software has been a rollercoaster ride from the start, with massive hits like DEFCON and Uplink interspersed with periods of near-bankruptcy and sales disappointments – last year’s Scanner Sombre didn’t get anywhere near its predicted numbers for example, whereas their previous game Prison Architect has sold well over a million and continues to prove popular.
Candy Crush Saga series
King was founded in Sweden in 2003, and spent the first decade or so of its life making browser and Facebook games before moving into the mobile market. Then in 2012, Candy Crush Saga quickly rose to dominate the mobile charts, and has done so ever since, raking in unbelievable sums for the company. So much so that Activision Blizzard bought King for an impressive $5.9 billion in 2016. The London presence is one of many satellite studios – the firm also has studios in Stockholm, Malmo, Barcelona, Berlin and Seattle.
House of the Dead: Overkill, Art Academy series, Battalion Wars, Powerstar Golf, Guitar Hero Live (some content), Zumba Fitness series
Kuju operates two UK studios: Headstrong Games in London and Zoë Mode in Brighton. Headstrong Games developed the Battalion Wars games for GameCube and Wii, spin-offs of the 3DS Advance Wars series, and later went on to create the gorily great B-movie light-gun shooter House of the Dead: Overkill. Recently it’s been working on the Art Academy series. Zoë Mode, meanwhile, started off working on SingStar and EyeToy games, before moving on to the Zumba Fitness series.
Polybius, Tempest 2000, Minotaur Rescue VR, Space Giraffe
Llamasoft used to be one man – industry legend Jeff Minter – but now includes Ivan Zorzin (better known as Giles). Since the early 1980s Jeff has been steadfastly churning out games in all sorts of genres, usually involving an ungulate of some kind. One of his most recent titles was Polybius, a trippy VR shooter that he describes as “the Tron dream come true.” You can read more about Jeff and Polybius in our Britsoft Focus.
Dreams, LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway
Media Molecule was founded in 2006 by ex-Lionhead employees, and it released its first game, LittleBigPlanet, in 2008. Since then it has done a sequel and created the Vita classic Tearaway, but it's currently working on what might be its most ambitious game yet: Dreams, a sandbox game that’s both breathtaking and baffling. As Keza said: “Dreams is one of the most exciting upcoming releases for the PlayStation 4 next year. It’s also very difficult to explain what it is.”
Volume, Thomas Was Alone, Subsurface Circular, EarthShape
Mike Bithell got his start at Blitz Games, a company founded by the Oliver twins – creators of Dizzy – which is now sadly defunct. His first solo title in 2012, Thomas Was Alone, featured simple geometric shapes with complex personalities (and a winning narration by Danny Wallace). The game was a huge hit, selling well over a million copies, and since then Mike has created Volume, EarthShape (for Google Daydream) and Subsurface Circular, an experimental, narrative-driven game that was announced and launched on the same day in 2017.
Frozen Synapse, Frozen Cortex, Tokyo 42
Formed in 2005, Mode 7 created Frozen Synapse, a turn-based tactical game that became a big hit on Steam. It recently released Tokyo 42, a game inspired by the classic home-computer title Syndicate. Find out more in our Britsoft Focus on the developer.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, DmC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Heavenly Sword
Ninja Theory was initially known as Just Add Monsters when it was formed in the early 2000s, and its first release was the cartoony four-playing fighting game Kung-Fu Chaos for the original Xbox (a game that surely deserves a revival on Xbox One). The studio got a bit more serious after that, becoming known for its focus on emotional narrative and astonishingly good motion capture – used to great effect in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Kotaku UK’s British Game of the Year in 2017. Other highpoints include its reboot of the Devil May Cry series as DmC, an amazing and inventive take on the Capcom classics that, sadly, never got the love it deserved.
Formed in 2010, Nyamyam currently has just one title under its belt – 2014’s beautiful Tengami, set in a pop-up book world inspired by Japanese art. The studio is currently working on Astrologaster, a comedy game about astrology based in 1592.
Pro Evolution Soccer series
Konami opened the Windsor-based PES Productions studio in 2013 to aid its Tokyo studio in creating the annual Pro Evolution Soccer instalments. Some credit staff at the UK studio with helping to turn the series’ fortunes around. Every fule knos that PES is much better than FIFA, but surely this news only confirms it.
Forza Horizon, Forza Horizon 2, Forza Horizon 3
While the Forza Motorsport titles are made in Redmond, Washington, by Turn 10 Studios, the Forza Horizon games are all made in the UK. Playground Games was formed in 2010 by the cream of the British racing-game-developer crop, with employees hailing from studios such as Bizarre Creations, Codemasters, Criterion and Reflections, and its most recent production Forza Horizon 3 was a beaut.
A gaggle of ex-Rare devs formed Playtonic Games with the intention of creating a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. After raising more than £2 million on Kickstarter, the company finally shipped Yooka-Laylee in 2017. Now, with its raison d’etre fulfilled, the developer’s next move is anyone’s guess... but my money is on Yooka-Laylee 2.
Sea of Thieves, Rare Replay, Kinect Sports Rivals, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country
Rare was formed in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper after they sold their previous company, Ultimate Play The Game, to US Gold. The company’s many hits are too numerous to list here, but include Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Banjo- Kazooie, GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Kinect Sports. It's currently working on Sea of Thieves for Xbox One.
Sniper Elite 4, Strange Brigade, Alien vs. Predator
Famously, Rebellion purchased the comic 2000 AD in, appropriately enough, the year 2000, and it has made several games based on Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd. But probably its most lauded game was the excellent Alien vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar back in 1994, not long after the company was founded. It has recently seen well-deserved acclaim for the Sniper Elite series, and it's currently working on the British-Empire-set third-person shooter Strange Brigade. Check out our recent wide-ranging interview with CEO Jason Kingsley for more.
Broken Sword series, Beneath a Steel Sky
Revolution almost exclusively specialises in point and click adventure games – its first title, Lure of the Temptress, was released back in 1992, followed by the acclaimed Beneath a Steel Sky, with artwork by 2000 AD’s Dave Gibbons. But after the company released Broken Sword in 1996, it concentrated on sequels to that game, with the fifth in the series coming out a few years back. Still, co-founder Charles Cecil has teased Beneath a Steel Sky 2 on a few occasions, so we could finally see a follow up to that 1994 classic. Or we might just get Broken Sword 6 – Electric Sticks. Only time will tell!
Grand Theft Auto series, Lemmings
Some people might be surprised to discover that the GTA games are made in Scotland – and always have been. DMA Design in Dundee created Amiga classics like Lemmings and Walker before switching to Nintendo systems and developing the underrated titles Unirally and Space Station Silicon Valley. Then in 1997 they released Grand Theft Auto and, following a tabloid 'storm' that the company's own PR had whipped up, the rest is history. A series of takeovers followed, with DMA eventually being renamed Rockstar North and relocating to Edinburgh. Rockstar studios in Leeds, Lincoln and London also help out with making GTA, as well as various other Rockstar games. Undoubtedly one of the great British success stories, culturally and commercially speaking, Rockstar is also notable for the oxymoronic poles of extreme secrecy and juicy court cases ('Hot Coffee' being the most famous one, though the company is currently defending itself against former employee Leslie Benzies, one of the masterminds behind GTA's modern form).
Batman: Arkham VR, Batman: Arkham Knight; Batman: Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Asylum
Rocksteady came into being in 2004, largely composed of developers from the recently closed Argonaut Games, the studio behind (among many other games) the early Starfox series. Rocksteady's first game was Urban Chaos: Riot Response on PS2, which was nice enough, but now looks like just a prelude to 2007's outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s been Batman all the way since then, with its most recent release being Batman: Arkham VR in 2016.
OlliOlli, OlliOlli2, Not a Hero, Laser League
Roll 7 was founded a decade ago, and started off developing games that can be controlled using brain waves for NeuroSky. Then in 2013 it released the excellent skateboarding game OlliOlli, followed by a sequel in 2015. It's currently working on Laser League, an arena-based sports game in early access.
Crackdown 2, Fragmental, Kinect Playfit, RAD TV
The founder of DMA Design Dave Jones left to form Realtime Worlds, which created the original Crackdown. Then some staff from RTW headed off to form Ruffian Games, which created Crackdown 2, which has most recently worked on Fragmental and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, before being drafted in to help with the upcoming Crackdown 3. But in-between this quality studio had a run of terrible luck – you can read all about it in this barnstorming Britsoft Focus.
Behold The Kickmen, The Swindle
Size Five Games is basically Dan Marshall, who has been behind a string of bizarre and enjoyable games over the past ten years. One-on-one shooter Gun Monkeys is notable for featuring the voice of comedian Kevin Eldon, though 2015's stealth rogue-like The Swindle got more plaudits. Most recently he trolled the internet by declaring he was making a football game while knowing nothing about football – and what began as a joke ended up as Behold The Kickmen.
Project CARS 2, Project CARS, Need for Speed: Shift
Slightly Mad Studios has been around for about a decade, and there’s just one thing it cares about – cars going very fast. Vroom! Phwoar look at that scarlet tint, etecetera. Its first title was Need for Speed: Shift, but it's probably most well known for being the studio behind the motor fetishist dream game, Project Cars.
SingStar, The Playroom, PlayStation VR Worlds
Sony’s in-house development studio was behind the EyeToy and SingStar, as well as the ill-fated Wonderbook for PS3. More recently it was the bod behind PlayStation VR Worlds. As its website says, it's all about “pushing the boundaries of what is possible on PlayStation.”
Brink, Gears of War 4 (multiplayer), Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Formed in 2001, Splash Damage is all about first-person shooters (as the name suggests). The studio is best known for creating Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, but it was also behind Brink and co-developed the multiplayer sections of Gears of War 4. It’s currently working on an unannounced project.
Football Manager, a game that has been infamously cited in several divorce proceedings, is the lifetime’s work of brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer. It started off as Championship Manager, a game they programmed in their bedroom in 1992 before forming Sports Interactive a couple of years later. Confusingly, when SI split with publisher Eidos in 2003, Eidos retained the rights to the name Championship Manager, but SI kept the game engine and continued creating the series under the name Football Manager.
Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle
Crackdown 3, Snake Pass, Dead Island 2, LittleBigPlanet 3, Disney Infinity 3.0
Sumo is huge, employing nearly 300 people. The studio is well known for developing games for Sega and Microsoft, like OutRun Online Arcade, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed and Xbox Fitness. It’s currently working on Crackdown 3 alongside several other studios.
Until Dawn, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, The Inpatient, Bravo Team
Supermassive Games works hand in hand with Sony – most of its games since 2009 have been PlayStation exclusive. It had a breakout hit with Until Dawn in 2015, and just released a prequel for PlayStation VR, The Inpatient.
Worms series, Alien Breed series
Team 17 was the darling of Amiga owners, releasing a slew of classic games in the early 1990s, including Alien Breed, Superfrog and Worms. These days it’s mostly a publisher – it recently published Yooka-Laylee by Playtonic Games – but it still develops games in the Worms series, such as the just-released Worms WMD for Switch.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The Chinese Room is most well known for the ‘walking simulators’ Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. If you’re wondering about the odd name, it’s a reference to a thought experiment that posits that a program cannot give a computer consciousness.
Traveller’s Tales, aka TT Games, has been making games since 1989, mostly titles aimed at children like Toy Story and Muppet Racemania. The massive success of LEGO Star Wars in 2005 has subsequently seen the studio devote itself to creating LEGO games.
Tom Clancy’s The Division (As FreeStyle Games: DJ Hero, Sing Party, Guitar Hero Live)
FreeStyle Games was founded in 2002 by devs who previously worked at Codemasters and Rare. After being acquired by Activision in 2008, the studio worked on the (quite brilliant) DJ Hero games and Guitar Hero Live, as well as pitching in on some Call of Duty and Skylanders stuff. The studio was bought by Ubisoft in 2017 and renamed, and reportedly has been doing bits and bobs for Tom Clancy’s The Division.
The Crew, Grow Up, Grow Home, Atomega
The founders of Reflections, Martin Edmondson and Nicholas Chamberlain, started out in the BBC Micro era, and their first game under the studio’s name was the smash-hit Shadow of the Beast in 1989. PlayStation launch title Destruction Derby was another big hit for the studio, as was the Driver series. Martin left the company in 2004 after a dispute with then-owners Atari, and the studio was acquired by Ubisoft in 2006. Its most recent games include Grow Home, Grow Up, and Atomega, as well as helping out on larger Ubisoft projects like The Crew.
So there you have it, a rundown of the impressive range of developers working in the UK. I was certainly surprised to discover that several games that I assumed were made in America are actually produced over here – hopefully you were, too.
When compiling this roll call, I was regularly aghast at the constant turnover of companies, with acquisitions and studio closures seemingly being the norm. Just a few weeks ago for example, CCP Newcastle, a subsidiary of the EVE Online developer, was threatened with closure and was subsequently bought and absorbed into Sumo Digital. Some developers have switched owners (and names) multiple times. In this context, it’s all the more remarkable that some UK stalwarts are now well into their second or third decades – Rebellion just turned 25, and Rare has been around for 33 years.
It's a tough old world out there. But the UK games industry continues to excel creatively on a global scale, and when one studio dies – however sad that may be – those seeds disperse and many smaller ones spring up. Britain may be in a state of national transition, but the games industry is one of the things that still makes it Great.