Ian Livingstone – EI10 Interview
Ian Livingstone (OBE) is one of those fundamental figureheads in the industry having started Games Workshop in 1975 and then going on to create the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks with Steve Jackson, which are now being adapted for the iPhone
In the mid 80’s he joined Domark creating their first release Eureka! In 1984 and as time went on Domark was acquired by Eidos, themselves recently becoming part of the Square-Enix publishing house.
Now, in his role as Life President of Square-Enix Europe, we caught up with him at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival and got a chance to ask him how the transition from Eidos to Square-Enix had gone.
“It’s been a great partnership so far”, Ian told us, “It’s been a seamless integration and there hasn’t been any domination by Square-Enix wanting us to do certain things. The outsider might think they wanted to take our Intellectual Property (IP), move it to Tokyo and develop our content there but absolutely the opposite is the case.”
“They bought Eidos because of the development talents within the studios, the content, the portfolio of IP and the ability to understand a Western market from a developer and production point of view. So it’s been fantastic so far and I really respect the heads at Square-Enix in Tokyo in what they’ve achieved in a short time with this seamless integration.”
With the new Lara Croft title having a substantially different feel we were interested in how Ian felt about this latest incarnation.
“If you look at the reviews they’ve been amazing and Crystal Dynamics have done a great job. The puzzles in the game are wonderful. The fact that you can play single player or Co-op with another player, a first in the Tomb Raider series which has previously been a solitary experience, gave us some reservations, or worries perhaps, about what would happen if you introduced another character; in case people only wanted to play Lara. In the end in transpired that everyone is really happy to play co-operatively with Lara or as Lara.”
“The new look, with the pulled back camera and a given forced perspective gives the player a great experience. Running through the environment you see a lot more, you can prepare yourself a lot more and solve the puzzles together. So, yes, it’s a fantastic adventure and well done to Crystal Dynamics.”
Ian made the transition from games to videogames quite easily and we wanted to know what had made him decide to take this step.
Ian said, “Well I saw it coming ever since Sir Clive Sinclair launched the ZX Spectrum. I thought wow this is something that can get our content into the digital age. I bought a Commodore Pet and was playing some very basic games and enjoying them and we actually sold some very early computer game in Games Workshop outlets.”
“The digital space really intrigued me and I wanted to get into it which is one of the reasons why Steve and I sold out of Games Workshop finally in 1991 and I invested in Domark which metamorphosed into Eidos in 1995.”
So what does a Life President of Square-Enix Europe do with his day, we wondered, and Ian was happy to explain his role further.
“I’m in exactly the place I want to be at the moment. They’ve given me this Life President role which means that I am effectively and ambassador for the company, for Eidos and Square-Enix but within both I am still very much involved in the development of games.”
“I sit on our green light committee which approves or doesn’t approve games in development or which might be coming into development. We consider resurrecting IP’s such as Thief and Deus Ex to get them reborn, those are both really exciting. I go round our studios and give them the benefit of my wisdom over 35 years in the games industry whether they take it or not from this old geezer [laughs]. It’s up to them. So from those points I’m very much involved.”
“Outward facing I do a lot of public speaking, lectures and government lobbying, I’ve been appointed, by Ed Vaizey, as the Skills Champion to do a review of the videogames industry. We’re looking at getting this published, probably earlier next year. It’s going to be a complete bottom up review of the whole education system relating to games. Not just at university level but also at schools. To get games recognised as a viable career option, as so many teachers and parents don’t see this.”
Ian was obviously impassioned in his belief in this report and the outcomes it could bring. He explained further why parents and teachers often didn’t see the possibilities.
“They don’t even see the benefits of learning through play. They don’t even see that we should be teaching kids programming at school, not just learning about Information Technology through various Microsoft packages like PowerPoint and Word, we want them to program. Then we can push at higher education so students can demand that certain courses are there for them, such as computer programming, maths, art and animation so it ends up spitting out graduates that can go straight into industry and start up tomorrow, with the hard skills necessary to make the games rather than the philosophy of knowing about games.”
“It’s being led by NESTA and Skills Set and I’m overseeing the whole thing. It’s going to be a mammoth piece of work but hopefully we will end up with a real, purposeful document that won’t just be stuck on a shelf and forgotten about but will represent a handbook for change.”
We’d like to thank Ian for taking the time to talk to us and wish him all the best at Square-Enix and with his role as Skills Champion, developing that report.