Codemasters is a British video game developer and publisher that was founded by brothers Richard and David Darling in October 1986. Based in Southam, England the game developer along with Llamasoft, Ultimate Play the Game, Gremlin Interactive and Rare is one of the oldest video game studios based in the United Kingdom.
The Darling brothers began their endeavour in the video game industry while attending school in Vancouver, Canada. Richard and David were introduced to programming in High School and had access to the school’s computer room after hours. Their shared passion for video games and interest in computer programming led them to create a text-based version of Dungeons & Dragons using their father’s Commodore PET computer. Wanting to pursue a career in video games the brothers along with a friend from school, Michael Heibert founded “Derbert Computers”. Heibert’s family owned a VIC-20 computer that the three students used to create video games clones of popular games such as Galaxian and Defender.
Richard and David Darling moved back to England to continue their education and purchased their own VIC-20 to resume creating video games. After getting settled in England the brothers formed another company called Galactic Software in order to do business in the UK. They decided to place a half-page advertisement in Popular Computing Weekly for £70 in hopes to obtain some order for their software. The magazine ad got the attention of the newly formed publisher, Mastertronic who was seeking developers.
|Parent Company||Electronic Arts|
|Divisions / Locations||Birmingham|
|Number of Employees||Approximately 700|
|Acquisitions||Sega Racing Studio (2008)|
Slightly Mad Studios (2019)
The brothers decided to drop out of school to focus on developing budget-priced games for Mastertronic fulltime. Over the course of their relationship with the publisher Mastertronic the brothers created Space Walk, BMX Racers, Jungle Story, Orbitron, Sub Hunt, Pigs in Space and a video game creation tool called “The Games Creator”. The brothers became very successful, earning £200,000 from the creation of their games. By 1985 Richard and David Darling owned a 50% stake in Mastertronic, which they decided to sell in March 1986 in order to start their own independent video game company.
The successful entrepreneurs used the capital generated from the sale of their share in Mastertronic to found Codemasters in October 1986. The development studio’s first game was BMX Simulator, a successor to BMX Racers, a game they created while working for Mastertronic. The Darling brother’s strategy was to make budget priced games with the quality of full priced games in order to attract a larger customer base and in turn create better exposure for the newly formed company.
Wanting to produce more games in a short amount of time the studio began hiring developers on a freelance basis, essentially becoming a video game publisher while continuing to develop in house games. The majority of the company’s early games were created by freelance developers such as G-Man and Danger Zone by Mike Clark, Terra Cognita by Stephen Curtis, Super Robin Hood and Ghost Hunters by the Oliver Twins, Super Stuntman by Peter Williamson, Lazer Force by Gavin Raeburn and ATV Simulator by Timothy Miller. By April 1987, Codemasters started to hire full time employees to expand their in-house development team.
As the market shifted away from computer games in favor of home video game consoles so did Codemasters. When the development studio shifted their focus to 8-bit and 16-bit console games they also adjusted their model of creating budget titles, moving towards developing and selling full priced games. While transitioning to home console game development the studio formed a partnership with Camerica, a Canadian video game company that were manufacturing and releasing unlicensed video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Codemasters became notable for making the majority of the unlicensed games published by Camerica, which bypassed Nintendo’s lock-out chip designed to only allow Nintendo authorized games to run on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
In 1990, the studio developed a device for the Nintendo Entertainment System that allowed players to modify game data in order to cheat or access functions that were not being used. The developer felt that their device known at the time as the Power Pak would be a good way to enter the console market, providing gamers with the ability to control their games in new and unique ways. Already having a relationship with Camerica the development studio partnered with them to manufacture and distribute the device rebranded as the Game Genie in Canada and the United Kingdom. In order to distribute their product in America they formed a relationship with Galoob.
Nintendo was not pleased with the release of the Game Genie and felt that the device was contributing to copyright infringement. Nintendo proceeded to sued Galoob, claiming that the Game Genie created derivative works in violation of copyright law. Sales of the Game Genie were halted in the U.S. while the case Galoob vs Nintendo went through the legal system however sales of the device continued in Canada by Camerica. While the U.S. legal system shut down distribution of the Game Genie in the United States while the lawsuit was in trial, Canadian courts had a different point of view on the situation and continued to allow the distribution of the Game Genie in Canada. This resulted in multiple advertisements being placed in popular video game magazines stating, “Thank You Canada!” for their foresight to continue allowing the product to be sold.
After a lengthy trial the U.S. courts decided that since the changes made by the Game Genie to the game code was only temporary and could not be saved that it did not result in any derivative works. Nintendo lost the lawsuit and the distribution of the Game Genie in the United States resumed. Codemasters responded by assigning additional resources to the concept of creating game manipulation devices turning the Game Genie from a device solely designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System into a product line. By 1993 more than half of the company was devoted to developing the product line, creating versions of the Game Genie for the Super Nintendo, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear.
Along with the massive success the developer had with the Game Genie product line in the 1990s, they also found great success with the development of the Micro Machines series and Pete Sampras Tennis on the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive. Since the studio was familiar with hardware design from their experience with creating the Game Genie, they utilized their knowledge by improving upon the standard Sega Genesis / Mega Drive cartridge with the introduction of the J-Cart. The J-Cart was a cartridge developed by Codemasters for the use with the Genesis / Mega Drive and held not only the game data but also contained two additional controller ports. This effectively allowed the development studio to create four player games for the Genesis / Mega Drive without consumers having to purchase any additional hardware. They introduced the J-Cart in 1994 with the release of Pete Sampras Tennis and continued to release selective games using the J-Cart such as games in the Micro Machines series.
As the video game industry continued to evolve and games transitioned from 2D to 3D graphics, Codemasters started to narrow this focus and specialize on a few difference genres, one of which was racing. Beginning their focus in the racing genre with the development of the TOCA series in 1997 and the Colin McRae Rally series in 1998 the developer quickly built a solid reputation for quality racing games. The studio continued to create other games outside of the racing genre such as the Brian Lara Cricket series and Operation Flashpoint however these series were overshadowed by their popular racing games. Through the years the studio would continue to dabble in creating original games in various genres while continuing to strengthen their position in the racing genre.
In May 2008, the studio successfully obtained the rights to the Formula One license after Sony’s exclusivity deal expired. The following month it was announced that the studio acquired “Sega Racing Studios” from Sega on April 25, 2008. The first games that utilized the Formula One license were F1 2009, releasing for the Wii and PSP in the fall of 2009 and F1 2010 for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010.
On April 5, 2010 Reliance Big Entertainment acquired a 50% stake in Codemasters and further increased their stake in the studio to 60% on June 9, 2013 to become the majority owner of the company. The company’s vision to specialize in racing games continued under the new ownership and in April 2016 the studio hired the majority of the staff at Evolution Studios, a racing game development studio that Sony decided to close.
The Reliance Group made the decision to hold an IPO and listed Codemasters on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market on June 1, 2018. The Reliance Group sold a large portion of their 60% stake in the studio through IPO, retaining only 29% stake in the company afterward. In November 2019 the Reliance Group sold its remaining stake in the game company.
The development studio’s first course of action after parting ways with Reliance Big Entertainment was to acquire Slightly Mad Studios, the developers behind the Project CARS series. The studio was also able to secure the exclusive rights to the World Rally Championship series in June 2020. The five-year license deal will begin in 2023 with plans to release their first game to utilize the license in 2024.
In November 2020, Take-Two Interactive announced the acquisition of Codemasters in a stock and cash deal estimated to be worth $994 million. The deal was expected to be completed by early 2021 with the studio set to operate within the 2K label under its existing leadership however Take-Two was out bid by Electronic Arts in December 2020. Electronic Arts offered to purchase all outstanding shares at the price of £6.04 for an estimated value of $1.2 billion, 14% higher than Take-Two’s offer. Codemasters’ board of directors have accepted Electronic Arts offer and the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.
The Story and Games of Codemasters, 1986-1999
Kim Justice hosts a YouTube channel that covers documentaries on old computers and videos games. The channel mostly covers European products such as the ZX Spectrum and companies like Ocean Software.