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31st August 2012
Article: How Finland’s Approach to Gaming Could Have Saved Core Design

Pre-Article Commentary: I originally wrote this for my Tomb Raider fansite, Guns and Grapple, but I wanted to republish it on The Sudden Stop in case some of you may be interested in the topic. This is a retrospective which toys with the idea of a parallel world in which the UK is more pro-gaming and holds a similar attitude to Finland in regards to its video game industry. I find the Finnish gaming industry actaully really intersting, so I really enjoyed researching and writing this piece.

How Finland's Approach to Gaming Could Have Saved Core Design

Finland is an awesome place. I haven’t been abroad yet, but it’s definitely a place at the top of the list. I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my interest in the music originating from the country with bands like Poets of the Fall, HIM and Nightwish. Yet my fascination transverses more than just one specific factor or industry and the location is stunning. During the winter months in Kemi, located in the North of Finland, an entire castle complete with a church, hotel and cafe is constructed from nearby snow. In Lapland you can watch the Northern Lights. Nearer to the Helsinki area are a number of game studios including Remedy Entertainment, Recoil Games and Rovio.

The country, as a whole, has produced some of the most interesting and innovative games over the past couple of years. Max Payne, Alan Wake, Trine, Angry Birds, Death Rally, Legend of Grimrock, Trials Evolution and Rochard are just a handful of franchises created in Finland. There are over 90 game developers, with roughly 50% being older than 2 years old. A third of the companies have less than 10 employees including Almost Human; the creators of the previously mentioned Legend of Grimrock, which has only four developers. 22% of the game companies receive an annual turnover profit of over €1 million and, according to Neogames, the predicted growth of the Finnish video game industry is expected to increase 50% each year.


What does Finland have to do with Tomb Raider? While they haven’t been directly involved in the development of the Tomb Raider titles, it’s their attitude towards gaming which is important. It’s something that’s unique. It’s something that other countries, if they have a growing video game industry presence, they need to recognise. If Britain adopted an attitude similar to Finland’s, things might have turned out differently for Tomb Raider...Core Design might have carried on developing Tomb Raider games.

There has always been an unwavering belief that Angel of Darkness’ release acted as the only reason for the copyright to be moved over to Crystal Dynamics. Core Design tried something new with the franchise; they wanted a darker storyline, a more serious Lara, the ability to interact with the characters; to make the game more open and believable. Core took risks. These risks later provided some problems for the UK-based team; missed deadlines. In the end they were forced to release a game which wasn’t as complete as they had originally hoped which led to negative reviews. Eidos then made the decision that because of the game; Crystal Dynamics were to obtain the copyright and continue the franchise.

Does that sound just a little strange to anyone else? One game caused the developer’s achievements to be dissolved? After all, they created Lara Croft!

The issue is that, as a community, we’re focusing on immediate factors, focusing on the actions of two companies. While statements in the previous opinion are true, there’s at least one other detail that we’re over looking; the state of the gaming industry in the UK.

In Finland, the company Tekes distributes €610 million of government funds to technology companies. Approximately between $2-7 million every year, gets sent to game developers. This money has helped financed numerous projects and companies, both established and new. It’s support like this that helps developers to expand; to take risks. And Finland’s gaming industry does like to take risks, leading to some of the most remembered and idolised games.

Below is a video containing a selection of interviews by representatives of video game companies in Finland. Rovio, Remedy and Futuremark talk about the impact of their games on a national and international scale as a consumer product, and the current state of the industry.



In England, the video game industry is very different. The media and government appear to hold an antagonistic view of the gaming industry. The sensationalization and desire of profits from media assets target games portraying them as being dangerous product. An example is BBC Panorama’s “Addition of Video Games” study which barely touched on actual medical or scientific evidence taking in favour shocking tabloid articles.

However, earlier this year the government announced initial steps into becoming more focused on the expansion of game development. They announced plans on creating tax breaks for video game companies. This follows a similar proposal from 2010. This new budget would create and safe guard 4,661 direct and indirect jobs added on the current total of 9000 jobs in the industry. The tax break is due to save the British gaming industry £188 million.

Although a step in the right direction for the British Gaming Industry, it’s just a little too late for Tomb Raider or Core Design. While the publishers remain in the country under the new name of Square Enix Europe, the original developing studios became defunct the same year Tomb Raider Legend was released, 2006. To understand more about how tax benefits and reliefs for the video game industry might have helped Core and Tomb Raider, we need to look back nine years; to look back at not only the state of the industry as a whole but also the impact of the franchise at the time.

From its release in 1996, Lara Croft is one of the most recognisable names in video gaming with Mario and Sonic. But as well as being an icon for the gaming industry, she was very much a British icon, whether that still is the case is up for debate. She was created during a period where titles didn’t have many lead female roles, and explored new technological advances with the original title being a first person platformer. Eidos pressed Core to have her as an English heroine, tailoring her specifically to become a British video game icon. The most memorable of these was the change from Laura Cruz to Lara Croft as her heritage was altered making the character an aristocrat. It’s somewhat strange that only a few years later, Eidos would change the developers, moving the IP out of the country.

In an interview with Digital Spy, Ian Livingstone, Creative Director at Eidos stated; "This IP became a franchise with all the revenue-generating possibilities in that, encouraging fans to delve deeper into the world of Lara Croft. So if you can create an IP, you should really hold on to it as it can be really valuable." The article reads that Livingstone then goes on to say that the UK should hold onto its IPs in order to take advantage of the new tax breaks.

What might have happened in 2003, if the government offered a tax break which was similar to what they are offering now? Core Design might have stayed; at the very least it would have been more difficult to make the case saying that Eidos should take the developing rights outside of the UK.

According to the Escapist Magazine, the video game industry in the US is one of the most subsidised industries in the country. While Tomb Raider’s parent company can claim changes were made due to the brand needing to be brought into a new direction; to “rejuvenate” the series, the final decision was made with the consideration of money especially that of benefits those other countries offered.
What destroyed Core was the fact that they were willing to take risks. I find it ironic that a year on from fighting to get games recognised as an art form, game development is just as restrictive.

Independent developers have the biggest opportunity to take risks, yet they are bound to fit into unwritten guidelines to obtain a publisher. The majority of recent games have to fit a norm, to be accepted and to have a target audience from its release. How many games now contain bullet time? A post-apocalyptic setting? Or described as “dark and gritty”?

If we’re really going to create awesome innovative games, we need to take risks. Bullet time was introduced in the video game industry with the original Max Payne game in 2001, Remedy’s first AAA title. Despite The Matrix gaining popularity with the effect in the movie industry, the game’s developers were inspired by Hong Kong action films such as John Woo. They looked at inspirations away from video games to create a popular gameplay mechanic that is still used a decade after its introduction into the medium. Another developer that took risks is the increasingly popular Angry Birds series by Rovio. The first Angry Birds game was the developer’s 52nd title, and their continual persistence now brings in an annual profit of $68 million.

Core Design shouldn’t have been punished by Eidos for taking risks, and the government support should have come earlier. If there was more support by the British government than Eidos might not have moved the IP over to America. For Eidos it looked like a win-win situation, they would get publicity, tax breaks for Tomb Raider’s development; production at a cheaper cost. Angel of Darkness wasn’t a failure; it sold almost twice as much as its predecessor, Tomb Raider Chronicles. I support Crystal Dynamics, just as much as Core Design, but I hate the reasons for the transfer and the delayed response by the government.

Sources:
Tekes Official Website
Scandimania: A Look at Finnish Games
Finland: A Paradise for Game Creators
BBC News: Budget 2012: Tax Breaks for Games Industry
Neogames
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
Digital Spy
Square Enix
IDGA Finland

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