For Dovetail Games, the choice of The Historic Dockyard, Chatham was the obvious choice to grow the business, with its rich heritage as a place of innovation and skill.
While shipbuilding and gaming may not seem similar at first glance, in many ways this most modern of companies has continued to fly the flag for a proud tradition of craftsmanship.
Founded by Paul Jackson OBE in 2008, his experience at EA UK (he established the UK office of Electronic Arts, as it was then known, in 1993) was instrumental in building this go to developer and publisher of simulation entertainment software.
Twelve years on and the company employs more than 140 people creating digital hobbies for hundreds of thousands of passionate enthusiasts around the globe.
“Being located here in Kent, in the heart of the Medway towns, has been absolutely pivotal to what we’ve done,” explains Jon Rissik, Deputy CEO of Dovetail Games.
“The Historic Dockyard has been the centre of craftsmanship for centuries, and we see ourselves as the new digital crafts people – we’re very much a 2020 incarnation of the things that have been done here for generations.”
When Dovetail Games was first set up, their founders benefited from a wealth of experience in the video games industry. They had seen consistent success from simulation games over time but spotted a gap in the market when they realised simulation products had fallen out of fashion with developers.
“We saw the opportunity to set up a company that really focused on rail simulations, and we’ve been very successful since,” Jon says. “Simulation is one of those evergreen gaming genres, built around a passion for the subject matter.”
Unusually for the industry, ‘hobby’ simulation games don’t jump from release to release; rather, Dovetail’s business model focuses around creating a great base game, then allowing enthusiasts to expand their collection.
It means a long-term relationship with an eager customer base – Dovetail has many players who have been with them for over 10 years and who have built their collection over that time.
“I think the unique selling point of Dovetail Games is that we don’t think of ourselves as a traditional gaming company,” says Jon. “We think of ourselves more along the lines of a hobby company. We use a very different model from the traditional ‘fire and forget’ model the industry uses. We have many customers who stay with us for a long time.”
Their 140-strong team are a blend of industry experts and new talent, with close proximity to local universities and the capital providing access to people with the skills the company needs.
“We mostly recruit from the local area, and we are very proud of that,” Jon enthuses. “We’ve been able to give a number of people their start in the interactive entertainment industry, which is something I feel very passionate about.”
The team loves working out of Chatham, not least because the transport links make London, Paris and the rest of Europe readily accessible. “We have an area where there is an abundance of housing, there are lots of things for people to do, there are great rail links, and the universities are really bringing forth great talent,” Jon explains. “We’ve been very well supported.”
In terms of next steps, Jon see Medway and Kent more widely becoming more of a centre for the creative industries and for digital talent, “Kent is a great place for the digital industries,” Jon concludes. “It really is an untapped gem within the digital and technology world.”