'It was almost, not exactly by mistake, but with the naivety we all start with in life,' Jason Kingsley OBE tells MT about his decision to go into business. He and his brother Chris launched videogame developer Rebellion back in 1992 and it's since become one of the country's biggest independent games companies, employing 250 people.
'We didn’t have a business plan,' he says. 'The business plan was: let’s make a game and try to sell it to somebody.' Their first big hit was Alien Versus Predator on the Atari Jaguar console, and Rebellion has gone on to develop several cult classics including the Sniper Elite series. It turned over around £11m in the year to June 2014, and Kingsley is looking to hit around £15-£20m in this financial year.
Britain's games industry is a quiet success story, responsible for massive international brands like Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto, one of the most successful games franchises of all time. But getting started as an independent developer isn't easy.
'Nobody ever knocks on your door and says would you like to make computer games for a living?' says Kingsley. 'We had to go out there and tell people what we were doing, had to put demonstrations together, we had to prove that we were worth taking a risk on, because one of the problems being new to any industry is you have no track record whatsoever.'
Things got even more difficult for new entrants in later years, he says, because the number of people required to make a game increased. But things have improved recently thanks to the rise of Apple's app store and other methods of digital distribution.
'With access to markets globally via the digital world, that’s actually kind of gone the other way now,' he says. 'I would say it’s probably the easiest it’s ever been now, in the history of making games, but it’s probably equally as hard as it’s ever been to actually make that make any money.'
Once seen as children's toys, Kingsley says that more older people, including politicians, are beginning to see games as a normal part of their media consumption. A co-founder of TIGA, the industry body for independent games developers, he helped to push through the videogames tax break which came into effect last year.
'That might well have saved the UK games industry,' he says. 'If you look at it over time, it was on a long slow decline from a place of greatness to a place of not quite so greatness. People were going out of business, as they do in business in general, but new startups weren’t happening here in the UK in the same way. I think tax breaks coupled with the rise in digital distribution have been absolutely instrumental in people having the confidence to set up their own companies and move forward.'
Though the company is much larger now than it was, not having investors means Kingsley can still get hands-on with the production of the games themselves rather than focusing on quarterly reports. Technically he's the CEO and his brother is CTO (chief technical officer) but he says it's not a particularly formal thing.
'People call us ‘the Ks’, and we’re in charge and that’s how it works – I can call myself whatever I like, that’s the great thing about my position,' he says. 'I can call myself Grand Wizard if you like but I think CEO is probably the best.'
Being independent also means Kingsley can find the time to pursue his other passion. 'I breed and train my own medieval warhorses and I have four suits of armour, which are museum-quality replicas made of steel, and I joust and fight for the Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage, the Royal Armouries and that kind of thing,' he says.
Kingsley on his horse, Warlord. Credit (and for above): Kasumi
'For me horses have always been part of my life, because they take me away from the technology back to a very basic physical interaction. Horses help earth me - help link me to the world around me in its most natural form.'
So will he ever leave Rebellion and ride off into the sunset? 'I laughingly talk about my exit strategy involving a six-foot hole in the ground and a wooden box,' he says. 'Long term plan? Do more cool stuff. I want to do business in areas that I’m interested and excited about from a personal perspective.
'Quite frequently people want to buy us, but nobody’s come up with a compelling reason why we should sell. That doesn’t mean one day we won’t but there is no objective to sell the company. I’m not MBA trained - I do not think of my company as something to be bought and sold. The business is what has happened that enables me to do the cool stuff that I want to do.'