Parallel Worlds: The Games Industry in Cambridge

By Kate Jones

Another fabulous CamCreatives meet up! First of all, a big thanks to Mike Cole who upgraded our audio. This means you can hear the talk even if you’re standing at the bar. Very handy as last night was packed!

A big thank you to Laurence Oldham for his talk on Parallel Worlds: The Games Industry in Cambridge. Here’s a summary.

A potted history of Laurence

Following a Fine Art degree and a Masters in Digital Entertainment, Laurence set up a studio and quickly learnt how not to set up a studio! Then followed some dabbling in multi-media CD-ROMs, websites and architectural visualisation. And finally, he took a job at Frontier and has been there for 21 years.

Working in games is creatively fulfilling. You get to work with a whole host of skilled people, innovate & take tech to the next level, and bring social value.

There was a boom in gaming during Covid and although that has dropped off a bit now, gaming is still a lifeline to many people including people with disabilities.

Some industry facts:

  • The games industry contributes £3 billion to the UK economy.
  • There are nine UK companies with over 250 staff – and two of these are in Cambridge.
  • Roughly 1200 devs in Cambridge are working in the games industry.

We looked at the timeline of game development. Here’s what caught my eye:

  • One of the first contenders for the first computer game was developed in 1952 in Cambridge. It was OXO (noughts and crosses) by A.S. Douglas.
  • 1978 saw the development at Essex University of MUD (Multi-user Dungeon), the first multi-player role-play game.
  • In 1984 came Elite with revolutionary 3D graphics. Again, this was by two Cambridge University graduates.
  • 1994 saw Tomb Raider another UK game and one of the first 3D character-driven games. 1994 was also the year Frontier Games was founded.

How are games made?

There are up to 150 devs working on a project and it takes 2 or 3 years to produce a game. The Frontier team use an agile approach to development, splitting the project into milestones so it’s manageable and they know what to prioritise.

You don’t have to be a dev to work in the games industry. There are so many different skills needed: artists, animators, HR, finance, legal, and customer services to name a few. A key role is localisation – what you’re building has to be understandable to audiences around the world.

You have to be quite a resilient person in this industry because you may find that your work doesn’t make the final cut – the project is always bigger than just one person.

Frontier has its own games engine called Cobra giving them a unique edge where they can build amazing new galaxies. And on that note, we’ll end our whistle-stop tour of parallel worlds!

Join us next time for Canny Curations: Christopher Burgess in conversation with Sue Keogh.