Words and interview by Simon Bland
The UK has long been a vibrant hub of video game production, housing exciting start-ups, producing huge hits and hosting countless networking events up and down the country. With this in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that the sector is currently booming – and with the chaotic events of the pandemic further catalysing its success (62% of British adults played a video game in 2020, according to the Guardian), its future looks brighter than ever.
One regional company poised to ride this wave of success is Huey Games. Based in the North West, the team was started around six years ago by founders Rob Hewson, his father Andrew Hewson and Technical Director Jonathan Ogden; a trio of industry veterans with a combined wealth of over 50 years’ experience in the gaming sector, thanks, in part, to Andrew’s former role as the owner of legendary games publishing house, Hewson Consultants.
After successfully crowdfunding and creating their own intellectual property Hyper Sentinel in 2018, Huey Games continued to work on big hits like KeyWe and The Last Stand: Aftermath. Soon, their path led them to Creative England’s Game Scale Up programme, where video game developers, publishers and support services were offered industry guidance to help them level up. Graduating from this scheme, current CEO and Creative Director Rob decided it was time to take the company even further and joined Creative Enterprise Evolve, a programme designed to help innovative screen sector businesses become investor ready and achieve business growth.
“At the moment, we’re focusing on work for hire and console porting but we see that as a foundation for the business in the long term,” says Hewson, part way through Evolve. The process of ‘porting’ games involves changing software or hardware so that it’s compatible with different environments and consoles – and it’s a process that’s become Huey’s niche. “Some developers just want to make games and will do some console porting to keep the lights on while working on their own stuff,” he explains. “We see ourselves as having a dual future.”
Through a combined career path, Hewson hopes the company can make waves not just in the world of game porting but also by simultaneously creating more new IP. “We have a work-for-hire element delivering world-class services for our clients – and we invest in the technology behind that,” he tells us, detailing the parts that make his company’s output unique. “We have a technology called Huey Core, which is a system for porting games that makes the whole process as efficient as possible and we’re continually investing in that internally.”
Described as software that sits between a game and a console to fill in the spaces and various platform variations that engines like Unity and Unreal struggle with, Huey Core aims to make the process of porting games onto machines made by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as seamless as possible for clients. What’s more, their in-house tech even offers the potential for bespoke add-ons that speak to a wide variety of users from a wide variety of backgrounds.
“It doesn’t just make porting games efficient but we’re also able to actually add features to the game. For example, one of our medium to long term goals is to add an accessibility manager,” reveals Hewson. “We can put in features for accessibility – whether it’s for colour blindness or audio and text to speech – so it becomes a piece of tech and middleware that’s valuable for the company.”
From there, the team’s focus is to continue creating their own exciting new titles, each with a distinctive Huey twist. “We’ve got our original games division where we’re reinvesting our profits and focus into what we call ‘spellbinding, kinetic gameplay’,” smiles Hewson. “Our gameplay is very much focused on movement and you’ll see in all of our games that kinetic gameplay is at the core of what we do.”
With their goal set, Hewson hopes that his time on Creative Enterprise Evolve and the one-to-one mentorship it offers will help Huey Games reach the finish line sooner rather than later. “We were able to go on the Game Scale Up programme with Creative England and it was massively valuable in terms of learning from lots of very brilliant people in the industry that came and spoke on that course,” says Hewson of his reasons for joining this year’s cohort. “To continue that journey with Evolve, particularly as we’re scaling up the company, just seemed like a great opportunity to keep that momentum going. We’re very fortunate in our industry to be coming out of the pandemic with lots of investment coming in – so it’s a really great time to be doing it.”
Through the scheme, Hewson has been paired up with Tim McSweeney, an industry mentor with bags of valuable experience under his belt gleaned from years of helping digital innovators from different sectors. It’s a connection that’s already proven to be an invaluable tool – and one that’s tricky to acquire when going solo. “Connections like this are difficult to make outside of these schemes and they’re massively valuable,” he admits. “The thing we find really useful about Evolve is the fact we get so much one-to-one time with Tim – because every business is different and this way his advice can be much more tailored to what we’re doing specifically.”
Hewson continues, highlighting how apt the programme’s title is to the experience Huey Games is currently going through: “Literally ‘Evolve’ is the name of the programme,” he chuckles. “There’s very much this idea of moving on and taking the next step. I don’t know of another way we’d be able to get this level of advice if it weren’t for programs like Evolve from Creative England.”
Looking to a post pandemic world, Hewson is confident that our newfound understanding and appreciation for the gaming sector is bound to work in his company’s favour. “I’ve definitely noticed a perception change,” he attests. “We talk a lot about the games industry being financially bigger than movies, music and TV combined but culturally it’s nowhere near. Before the pandemic, we’d see the same old stories about how games are bad but actually we’ve seen a shift to games being used as something that have kept people connected, helped people communicate or helped with their mental health during lockdown,” suggests Hewson. “These positive stories have started to cut through more, which is great.”
Hewson also believes these stories have had an impact on those who support the industry too. “People are staying home, playing more and buying more consoles and I think that has changed people’s perceptions when it comes to investment. Suddenly people are realising just how huge the games industry is – and the fact that it’s so resilient to something like a pandemic,” he rightly points out. “There’s just so much growth and opportunity. It feels like all boats are being lifted at the moment – which is good timing in terms of our accelerating growth.”
As for what the next five years might hold for Huey Games? “At the end of the Evolve scheme we’ll have a solid three to five year business plan and will be very clear on the right kind of investment for us,” reveals Hewson. “We’d like to continue that growth in terms of work-for-hire and really establish Huey Games as a world-class developer in the Manchester region.”