In 1996, the UK Derby based studio, Core Design, released Tomb Raider for the Sega Saturn. Despite popular belief, the original Tomb Raider was built ground up with Saturn hardware in mind and first launched on Saturn several months before embarking on the Sony PlayStation. After nearly 11 years since Core Design disbanded in 2003 (and was acquired by Rebellion Studios), co-founder and former chief operating officer Jeremy Heath-Smith discusses the difficulty in staying relevant with the industry’s continuous technology advancements.
By the end of 2003, the Tomb Raider franchise was taken away from Heath-Smith after the commercial failure of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness on PlayStation 2. Shortly after, Heath-Smith and his brother Adrian formed Circle Studios, in which they worked on a slew of DVD-based games and 2005’s Without Warning for PS2 and Xbox. Circle Studios was liquidated in February 2007, thus voluntarily forcing Heath-Smith to abandon his career in the video game industry.
I love where games are … but it’s just too big a business. It’s turned into a multi-billion dollar revenue business now, which it was always going to do. For me, that kind of takes some of the fun out of it.” – Jeremy Heath-Smith
With the launch of the 32-bit consoles—Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, there was a huge market change and a great degree of pressure arose. Smith-Heath’s continual efforts to sell great video games nearly cost the beloved derby studio and birthing grounds of the Tomb Raider franchise—everything. The rapid technology advances got hold of the studio with a frenzy, which made it much harder to develop a video game that matched the same success as the established multi-million dollar Tomb Raider franchise.
The increasing gaming tech and the demand for more Tomb Raider games hurt Core Design in the long run. Tomb Raider sequels weren’t up to date with some of the other action adventure games being released in the late 90’s and early millennium. Additionally, Tomb Raider sales hampered in which Heath-Smith faced the consequences and unfortunately was let go. The shift from 32-bit to 128-bit consoles put a burden on Core Design, partially due to Sony’s inconsistencies with their PlayStation 2 development kits. After the failure of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness the team was exhausted by the franchise. The Tomb Raider franchise was acquired by California, USA based studio, Crystal Dynamics in 2003 and the studio continues to develop Tomb Raider games. More recently, Crystal Dynamics have garnered critical acclaim for 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider (PS4, X360, XONE, PC).
Currently, Heath-Smith operates Spike Global as CEO with a focus on developing software for bigger companies. Heath-Smith helped launch the Tomb Raider franchise, still one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. Tomb Raider was originally released on Sega Saturn in 1996. Later sequels such as Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider Chronicles were ported to Sega’s Dreamcast in 2000.
Patrick Stafford, writer for Polygon further discuses this with Jeremy Heath-Smith in his latest interview on the gaming news website. Check out the interview here.