Videogame Lifer

Lara Croft legend Ian Livingstone on a very varied career.

He has been called the Godfather of the UK videogame industry, and it's a moniker well deserved. After founding board game store Games Workshop and writing the first game books with chum Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone OBE exploded upon the videogame world with one of the UK's leading ladies: Lara Croft.

Now though, with the nineties a fond memory and Eidos' new Japanese owner just a conference call away, Livingstone is turning his attention to other matters. Here, in a rare interview conducted at the recent London Games Conference, the Eidos Life President takes Eurogamer on a whistle-stop tour through the career of a living legend.

Eurogamer: Why are you famous?

Ian Livingstone: Well! I wouldn't say I'm particularly famous. I'm known by quite a lot of gamers, I guess.

My claim to fortune was, I was a games geek. I was sharing a flat in Shepherd's Bush with two school friends, Steve Jackson and John Peake.

We didn't have much money. Instead of going out we stayed in and played board games such as Diplomacy and Avalon Hill Wargames. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to turn our hobby into a business?'

We put out a newsletter called Owl and Weasel, a little instant print thing. We sent it to everybody we knew in games. One of the recipients of it, although we hadn't sent it to him directly, was Gary Gygax, who'd just invented Dungeons & Dragons. He wrote back and said, 'Love your magazine. Here's this game I've just invented.'

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Livingstone and Jackson's The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

It was a little white box with three books of unintelligible rules, but it opened a whole new world of imagination. It was the very first role-playing game I'd ever seen in my life. Here was a design-a-game kit. One person became a dungeon master and created a labyrinth of rooms and passageways populated with monsters and treasure, and the other players took on roles, like fighters, heroes, wizards, magic users, clerics. Through conversation they explored dungeons, killed monsters and found treasure. And then they'd level up.

Of course, Dungeons & Dragons was really just a game of the imagination, but it had a profound effect on so many games going forward, especially in the world of computer and videogames. Without Dungeons & Dragons, would World of Warcraft be the game it is? Probably not.

We launched Dungeons & Dragons and ended up opening Games Workshop stores because we couldn't get anybody else to stock the game. Games Workshop was hugely successful. We launched Warhammer.

We also decided to take the essence of role-playing games and create a solo games adventure in a book format. This was the very first Fighting Fantasy game book Steve and I wrote called The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

They were published by Penguin Books. They started off selling very slowly, but the word of mouth built of these cool, interactive adventures where the reader is the hero, made choices, killed monsters and had to win their way through the book. They were the very first interactive books and they were very compelling because suddenly the readers were saying, 'This is my adventure. It's not somebody else's adventure.'

Slowly the demand for them built as the word spread in playgrounds. They ended up selling over 16 million copies in over 25 languages. Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon, Citadel of Chaos, City of Thieves... They were fantastic times.

Eurogamer: How did you go from that to making videogames?

Ian Livingstone: I invested in a small British developer/publisher called Domark in the mid-eighties. I forgot about that investment until, having sold out of Workshop in 1991, I invested more money into Domark in 1992 and joined the company as an executive.

In 1995 we created a new company, which was four companies together: Domark, Simis, Big Red and Eidos Technologies. We created a new company, Eidos Interactive, and we floated it on the London Stock Exchange.

We didn't have that many great titles at the time. Championship Manager was probably the most famous. But then we acquired another PLC in the space, called CentreGold, and with CentreGold came Tomb Raider. We published Tomb Raider in November 1996 and the rest, as they say, is history. It was love at first sight with Lara and we went on to sell over 30 million copies of Tomb Raider.

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