Indie Dev Interview: Sir Ian Livingstone

There are a few games industry legends out there and we’ve been lucky enough to speak with one of them. Please read on for our Indie Dev Interview with Sir Ian Livingstone. One of the driving forces behind Games Workshop, Eidos, Playdemic, Tomb Raider, Sumo Group and so much more.

We spoke with Sir Ian about his incredible journey, experiences, his work with SpecialEffect and what he has planned for the future. A huge thank you to Ian for taking part in the interview and answering so many questions for us. He’s one of the UK games industries finest and was recently recognised with a Knighthood from the British monarchy. 

Firstly, thanks for taking part in our interview. For those that don’t know you, please could you introduce yourself?

I am an avid games player who was fortunate enough to turn my hobby into a career. I co-founded Games Workshop in 1975 with Steve Jackson, launching Dungeons & Dragons in Europe and later Warhammer. In 1982 I co-wrote The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with Steve, the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook in the series which went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide.

In 1995 I was instrumental in creating video games publisher Eidos where, as Executive Chairman, I launched hit titles including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. After leaving Eidos I became an angel investor in indie video games developers including Playdemic, developers of hit mobile game Golf Clash. I am currently Chairman of Sumo Group plc. And of course I’m very proud and honoured to be a Vice President of Special Effect.

Indie Dev Interview: Sir Ian Livingstone

You’ve had an incredible career in gaming, it all started with Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy books. Did you ever anticipate where they would take you?

I had no idea and didn’t really care. I was a games player who wanted to make games as well as play them. Monetary reward was not the motivation. It’s been an incredible 45-year journey and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it.  I’ll never retire. 

Interview with Ian Livingstone Image
Ian Livingstone

What advice do you have for someone starting out on their journey in business/development, what should they be doing, what shouldn’t they be doing? 

I recommend raising capital for the business sooner rather than later. It gives you the necessary funding to hire the best people and gives you the time to execute a business plan to the best of your ability. Secondly, don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is just success work-in-progress. Try to avoid trading away intellectual property for project finance because owning your own IP builds greater value in your business. If you are a creative person, do what you are good at and partner with people to do the stuff you can’t do or shouldn’t do, but never give away creative control. Above all, love what you do. 

By all accounts you started as a magazine, an event and a distribution partner, would you say you have always had an entrepreneurial spirit?

Yes, I started  Games Workshop, White Dwarf, Games Day and other enterprises. I never wanted to work for somebody else. I always wanted to determine my own destiny. I’ve never been afraid to take risks. A venture into the unknown is exciting and can be very rewarding in multiple ways. 

Interview with Ian Livingstone
The opening of Games Workshop

Where did you find opportunities and if you were starting from scratch today, what business opportunities would you look into?

Opportunity is everywhere, you just have to look. If I was starting again, I’d do exactly the same and start another games company. Follow your heart and go for it.

Games Workshop was and is a huge success, what have been some of your highlights in working with Warhammer, White Dwarf and Games Workshop? 

There have been many highlights during my career, from starting Games Workshop, opening our first shop in 1978, hanging out with Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax, putting together the first issue of White Dwarf, opening Citadel Miniatures, seeing the first copies of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain on the bookshelves at WH Smith, and many more. For people who’d like to know more about the early days of Games Workshop, Steve Jackson and I are finishing off writing a book entitled The Dice Men which will be published by Unbound

Interview with Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy
Fighting Fantasy – Deathtrap Dungeon

Did you ever expect it to be such a success and when did you decide to move on to other projects? Is there an important lesson in when to move on?

I had no idea that Games Workshop would become so incredibly successful as it is today. When moving on, the lesson is – don’t look back!

Working on Fighting Fantasy, we know you’ve lent the IP to a number of young people to give them a chance to develop games. Is giving an opportunity to the next generation important to you?

The games industry and the people in it are brilliant and I encourage people to think about games as a career opportunity. And if I can do something to help people on their way, I will.

You then got into games with Domark and Eidos, was video games the logical next step for you? How did you navigate the transition to digital from physical formats?

When Deathtrap Dungeon was top of the children’s books bestsellers’ list in 1984, I was approached by the founders of Domark who asked if I would be interested in designing their first game, Eureka. I agreed, and the game came out the following year. I never lost touch with the founders and after I sold out of Games Workshop in 1991, I joined the board of Domark as I wanted to be part of the video games industry.

It was an easy transition to make as I was still in the games industry, albeit a digital one. Three years later Domark and three other companies merged to form Eidos and a new chapter began for me as chairman of a major British publisher of video games.

What are some of the great experiences you’ve had in making games?

Working with some of the nicest and most creative people I have ever met. And I also got to meet Angelina Joie on the set of the Tomb Raider movie…

What were the expectations for Tomb Raider when you first began to work on it?

I first met Lara Croft in March 1996. Eidos was in the process of acquiring the game’s developers, Core Design, and I was visiting the studio to evaluate their games in development. I was shown around, but it wasn’t until I entered the last room that the jaw-dropping moment happened.

In a corny way you could say it was love at first sight. There she was on screen, running, jumping, climbing, exploring and fighting her way through beautifully-crafted environments. This wasn’t another 2D platform game with a stereotype hero, this was a game with a charismatic and athletic 3D female character navigating a 3D world. This was Lara Croft, the invincible star of Tomb Raider. 

The game was a first in many ways. A very talented team was developing a ground-breaking game with an amazing female lead character, amazing graphics, amazing technology, amazing music and amazing gameplay. Toby Gard was the designer with the vision and determination to make Lara Croft the posh, gun-toting, puzzle-solving heroine in a world that had been previously dominated by male heroes. Unsurprisingly, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider went on to become global blockbuster.

Interview with Ian Livingstone Tomb Raider
The original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

What could an indie game developer learn from your experience on working with gaming studios throughout the decades?

The games industry is very competitive and there is a lot to learn, but I would wholeheartedly recommend joining it. The ‘One Thing I Know’ is that you must recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. Hire the best people to help you build the best companies and if that means hiring a CEO, so be it. 

My Top Ten tips:

  1. Do not be afraid of failure. Learn from your mistakes and move on. 
  2. Retain ownership of your intellectual property. 
  3. Do what you are good at and partner with somebody to do the jobs you don’t want to do or can’t do.
  4. Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution of the idea that is the hard part.
  5. Making money should not be the main motivating factor for starting a business, rather a bi-product of success.
  6. Dare to be different. Be yourself and follow your heart.
  7. Make yourself investor-ready before asking for investor funding.
  8. Prove you have ‘skin in the game’ to demonstrate commitment to investors.
  9. Understand the business of creativity.
  10. Enjoy what you do or do something else.

You’ve done a lot for the games industry and embarked into education, how important is it that the games industry prepares for the future?

The video games industry is being transformed by advances in technology. Whilst the industry is reliant on talented software engineers, designers, artists and animators, the increase in digital distribution and changing business models has resulted in a sharp increase in demand for a range of new skills such as back-end server engineers, data scientists and analysts. 

Education must keep abreast of the furious rates of technological change happening in the world today. I co-authored the Livingstone-Hope Next Gen review published by NESTA in 2011 which recommended changes in ICT education policy to include computer science in the national curriculum. I’m delighted that the Computing curriculum was introduced in 2014, but the games industry must also play its part in up-skilling the workforce.  

What do you think of the indie games sector in 2020? 

It’s a crowded marketplace, but there has never been a better time to make and publish games. A lot of the risk has been taken thanks to digital distribution and a games as a service business model whereby studios can transact with their customers directly. 

Is it a positive time to be making indies? How does it compare to the 90’s, 00’s, 10’s?

The video games industry is one of few success stories during the pandemic. Revenues are up and it’s largely business as usual for developers working from home using cloud-based development platforms. In the post-Covid digital world, the video games industry ticks all the right boxes for the UK knowledge economy – creative, high tech, high skills, digital, export, regional, IP-creating and regional. What’s not to like?

Are you playing any indie games yourself at the moment?

Several. Stardew Valley, Knighthood, Trials of Fire, Slay the Spire and Papers Please.

How did you come across SpecialEffect and what made you become a VP? 

I heard Dr Mick Donegan speak at a games industry event several years ago and was blown away by his vision, passion and dedication. What an amazing charity. I wanted to get involved immediately.

Is there something about SpecialEffect that made you say ‘I’ve got to be part of that?’ 

The incredible work that SpecialEffect does by using technology to modify games devices to give people with severe disabilities a quality of life they would otherwise miss out on is extraordinary. The joy that brings to people is truly inspirational. It is an honour and privilege to play a part in helping this amazing charity.

Interview with Ian Livingstone SpecialEffect
Mick and Ian celebrating SpecialEffect’s One Special Day

I see you are working with a gaming fund, what projects are you backing and what sort of things are you looking for?

I personally invest in start-up indie games companies and also as a partner in Hiro Capital which provides scale-up funding for established games companies looking to expand their businesses. I’m always on the lookout for the next big thing!  

You’ve achieved so much in your career, what’s left to do or are there any opportunities you regret not pursuing?

It’s best to look forward than backwards. There’s not a lot to be gained by thinking ‘if only’. I’ve always harboured a desire to see a film made based on one of my Fighting Fantasy books. An excellent screenplay based on Deathtrap Dungeon has been doing the rounds and hopefully one day a Hollywood studio might call to say yes. 

What are you working on today and what are your plans for the future?

I’m working on lots of things. I’m Chairman of Sumo Group which is one of largest developers of AAA video games in the UK, employing over 800 people in studios in Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle, Brighton, Leeds, Leamington Spa, Warrington, Pune (India) and Vancouver.  I also sit on the board of several indie games companies and charities. 

As for personal projects, I’ve gone back to my roots. I really enjoyed writing Assassins of Allansia which came out last year so I’m writing a new Fighting Fantasy gamebook to coincide with the 40th anniversary in 2022. I’ve also been developing a new board game during lockdown. Last but not least, I’m opening a school, the Livingstone Academy in Bournemouth, in association with Aspirations Academies Trust.

Interview with Ian Livingstone Assassins of Allansia
Assassins of Allansia


To support SpecialEffect in its incredible work there are many ways in which you can get involved. Below is are just some of the activities coming up that you can take part in as they seek to meet growing demand at a time when many physical fundraising events have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

The SpecialEffect Virtual 10K is happening on July 5th where over 140 people will be running in their local area to support the charity. Find out more and register for FREE here.

One Special Day, where companies around the world are invited to contribute a single day of revenue from one or more of their games, and the response has been phenomenal. This year Friday 2nd October is the date for One Special Day.

Thanks for reading our Indie Dev Interview: Sir Ian Livingstone, for more interesting articles on the indie games industry, check out the links below. 






This Article was written by: Harry Cole

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