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Codemasters Acquires the Evolution Studios Team

DiRT Rally, the latest racer from Codemasters. (Image by Codemasters)

DiRT Rally, the latest racer from Codemasters. (Image by Codemasters)

Two of the biggest racing developers will soon join together under one roof.

Codemasters, the British developer known for racing franchises like DiRT, F1 and Grid, has hired most of the staff from the former Evolution Studios, making the Driveclub developer a subsidiary of the company, it announced on Monday.

The new Evolution team will start under Codemasters on April 25. The group will be responsible for making a brand-new racing IP and multiplatform development across the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

This move turns Codemasters into one of the premier racing developers not only in the U.K. but around the world.

Sony announced it would shut down the first-party Evolution Studios back in March. Founded in 1999, Evolution Studios was responsible for developing PlayStation-exclusive racers like the Motorstorm franchise and most recently Driveclub in October 2014. The game suffered from development delays and launch problems that hurt Driveclub’s image even as the studio continued to add improvements and new content.

The new studio under Codemasters will still be based in Cheshire where Evolution’s offices were located in England. Codemasters made job offers to everyone at Evolution and most of them accepted, according to an interview with GamesIndustry. Many of the people behind Evolution will make the transition, like Paul Rustchynsky, Driveclub’s director and Jamie Brayshaw, the former senior community manager at Evolution.

The staff from Evolution Studios will be focused on making its own games, not only working on existing Codemasters franchises.

“Of course there will be synergies, of course we will share stuff, but we would like to make sure they retain their identity and stay together as a team to do what they’re good at,” Frank Sagnier, CEO of Codemasters, told GamesIndustry. “What we don’t want to do is bring in a team of 50 people and start having some work on one game and some on another, on existing IP. The whole point is to keep their DNA and build a new game.”

Codemasters described the addition as two racing giants coming together. “We were Ferrari and Mercedes, now we’re the same team,” Sagnier said.

Mick Hocking, co-founder of Evolution Studios and the former vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, will now be the vice president of product development at Codemasters, in charge of overseeing all projects at the company. With the addition of Evolution Studios, Codemasters now has three branches in the U.K. and one in Malaysia. Its England headquarters are located in Southam, Warwickshire where the company develops the DiRT games.

“I’m delighted to be joining Codemasters at such an exciting time in the company’s growth,” Hocking said on the Codemasters blog. “We have a shared passion for racing, a desire to innovate and a determination to create the best racing games and build the biggest racing community in the market.”

“We all love racing, we’re all petrol heads,” Hocking told GamesIndustry. “This is just an opportunity to bring those guys across, keep the team together, keep all that knowledge and all that expertise together, and combine it with the fantastic talent at Codemasters.”

Sony Interactive Entertainment will still own the rights to the Motorstorm and Driveclub franchises. Technology made by Evolution like the game engine behind Driveclub will also be retained by Sony. Codemasters was more interested in getting the people behind the games, according to its CEO. It didn’t need the permission of Sony Interactive Entertainment or consult the company when hiring the Evolution team. The deal had been in the works for the past few months once Evolution learned Sony would be closing the studio.

“They were happy for the team, for the fact that it was two British companies coming together,” Sagnier said about Sony’s reaction to Codemasters’ expansion.

Codemasters had gone through layoffs and restructurings over the past several years. The studio was founded in 1986 and is one of oldest developers in the U.K.. The company developed games outside the racing genre like the Operation: Flashpoint series. Codemasters had also expanded into publishing other third-party games, with more recent titles like the Overlord franchise, Clive Barker’s Jericho (2007), Turning Point: Fall of Liberty (2008), Damnation (2009) and Body Count (2011). The company’s new focus is now strictly on creating its own racing games.

As it’s now more financially stable due to the success of F1 2015 and DiRT Rally over the past year, Codemasters was able to expand the company and add Evolution Studios at the right time, according to Sagnier.

“Evo is definitely a huge coup for us, but we are continuing to hire because we have a lot of projects in our pipeline which we’re very excited about,” he said. “We want to be the number one racing studio in the world.”

Evolution Studios will continue to work with Sony for PS4 releases in the future. Both Evolution and Codemasters view the news as something that greatly benefits both companies and also Sony, who will continue to get Evolution-made racing games. The decision to shut down Evolution hasn’t changed the team’s relationship with Sony or its desire to release games on PlayStation platforms.

“We worked on some great IP together and it’s been a very amicable parting of ways,” Hocking said. “We’ve still got a great relationship and PS4 is definitely going to be a key part of our strategy going forward, so we’ll be maintaining those relationships. So I think it’s all been handled really well, by both companies. It’s very positive.”

Reliance Entertainment, an Indian media company, is the major investor behind Codemasters with a 60 percent stake in the U.K. group since 2013. Reliance approved of bringing on Evolution Studios, seeing it as a positive way to grow Codemasters.

Codemasters’ most recent game is the console versions of DiRT Rally for the PS4 and Xbox One, which released on April 5. The game launched in Early Access on Steam in April 2015 and officially released last December.

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