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Games company takes world by storm with chart-topper
[April 11, 2007]

Games company takes world by storm with chart-topper

(Daily Post (Liverpool) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) MARTIN KENWRIGHT'S computer games company has taken the world by storm in the last few months.

Evolution Studios, based in Runcorn, has seen turnover race through the pounds 10mmark as its game, Motorstorm, has topped the computer games charts in the world's three biggest markets.

Motorstorm is the best-selling game sold with the recently launched PlayStation 3 games console. Its success means Kenwright has come a long way since he started out in business.

Sony's PlayStation3 was launched in Japan and the United States before Christmas and in Europe last month.

Motorstorm is an off-road driving game. The key advance that PlayStation3 offers compared to its predecessor PlayStation2 is processing power. This is fully utilised by the graphics used in Motorstorm. The mud that the off-road vehicles drive on is churned up and remains rutted each time the game is played. It means no two sessions are the same.

The game was launched after a period of sustained publicity and promises. One such pre-launch claim was it would use true physics - cars would overturn when they were meant to.

The computer entertainment industry's critics have largely welcomed the game, saying it mostly lives up to expectations. There are just a few dissenting voices casting doubts about it, but Motorstorm's position in the sales chart is the all-important proof that shows it has been well received by the games playing public.

Kenwright wouldn't say how many Motorstorm games have been sold since PlayStation3 was launched, claiming the figures were not yet available. The coyness though is probably more inspired by deference to Sony, which likes to control the release of such data. However, Sony sold 600,000 PlayStation3 consoles in the week following the UK launch. To have a high ranking in such an active market is a clear sign of market success.

"We have built the company very steadily and carefully and now we are flying. To be top in all three markets is brilliant," said Kenwright.

He established Evolution Studios in 1999 with the help of former Psygnosis founder Ian Hetherington, shortly after Hetherington sold the Liverpoolbased business to Sony.

Kenwright had previously run another business, Digital Image Design, which produced a flight simulation programme. As well as being sold as a computer game for the general market, a version was sold to the military for training purposes.

Hetherington's contacts have proved invaluable in helping the business grow.

"All of our growth has been organic. We have not taken any external investment or even a bank loan," Kenwright said.

After its formation, the first game published by Evolution Studios was the Official World Rally Championship.

Kenwright said: "We were just six guys in a farmhouse just outside Frodsham. World Rally was very successful. It was one of the best-selling PlayStation games in the world."

Kenwright, 39, the cousin of the theatre producer and Everton Football Club owner Bill Kenwright, was brought up in Netherley and Norris Green before his family moved to Runcorn. He studied computer graphic design in the sixth form. "Before I knew it, I was in computer games design," he recalls.

With the success of Motorstorm in the bag, the firm is now looking to the future.

Initially, there is some work to be done to add downloadable accessories to the Motorstorm title. "That's our big focus right now. Some of it we have to give away and some of it we can sell," said Kenwright.

He says Evolution has plenty of games in the pipeline. "We have about six projects on the go," said Kenwright, but he isn't prepared to say what they are.

"We have to consolidate a bit after our success with Motorstorm, but we are thrilled with progress to date, but we will also want to capitalise on that success in the next few years. One of the difficulties is that the concepts have to stay secret till they are published.

"The future lies in leveraging the fact we are not owned by a large company.

"We are completely independent. Our ambition is to retain this independence," he said.

Independence is rare these days, admits Kenwright, with many games studios now owned by the big console makers or larger games software suppliers.

"We never take this for granted. We work very hard. We want to stay in the area.

"The region is full of talent. We want to consolidate our position here. We want to do things but we can't tell people about them right now. We have a good relationship with Sony," says Kenwright.

The Official World Rally Championship was also designed with Sony Computer Entertainment, based at Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool.

He adds "The Rally game features Sebastian Loeb, the current world champion.

"It was successful, but it was a bit of a niche game. It could only really sell well in countries where Rally is big. In contrast, Motorstorm has wider appeal.

"Our future growth depends on using our key strengths, simulation and graphics technology."

To celebrate the company's recent success, Kenwright is planning to take the whole firm to Las Vegas later this week.

Another game made by Evolution's Leamington Spa studio is Pursuit Force, a police car chase game. The next version is Pursuit Force Extreme Justice.

And given his family connections, what football team does he support? Well, actually, when I interviewed him, Kenwright was still jumping with joy at the excitement of his team's away win against PSV Eindhoven.

"I ama Red," he said, "but I do have a bit of a blue streak in me because of Bill."

We have built the company very steadily


Age: 39

Born: Liverpool

Family: Wife

Best advice received: Go on gut instinct. It's my own advice and it's always worked for me.

Biggest inspiration: Bill Shankly

Unfulfilled ambition: To buy Liverpool FC, perhaps in 10 years time.

Copyright 2007 Liverpool Daily Post & Echo Ltd

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