Reading the runes! Brighter Shores for Cambridge gaming sector as Gower launches new title

28 Mar, 2024
Tony Quested
Andrew Gower, who co-invented the record-breaking video game RuneScape almost a quarter of a century ago which helped power Jagex to global glory, has handed the Cambridge sector a massive shot in the arm with the launch of Brighter Shores – potentially a fresh blockbuster for the industry.
Brighter Shores. Images courtesy of Fen Research

We can reveal he has already invented a second new title – set to launch in a timely fashion following Brighter Shores – is funding and steering a productive Cambridge studio and is keen to expand with new hires.

It was 2001 when the Andrew and Paul Gower-inspired RuneScape hit the market via Jagex.

Now steering Fen Research from St John’s Innovation Centre, Andrew Gower has summoned fresh power with the Brighter Shores release. He is CEO of the company and lead designer and is funding the entire project which remains something of a family affair.

Paul is also working on the game as the narrative designer and quest designer, which Andrew says “is really great. My brother Ian is also working on the game.” Neither of them are in management positions or providing any funding.

Andrew tells Business Weekly that he has invested more than £5 million of his own money making the game and the engine that runs it and while the project is definitely a labour of love, he hopes at least to make his money back – if not edge a profit.

“It’s impossible to tell what Brighter Shores may be worth ahead of launch but we have had a lot of excitement from the announcement which is very promising. I am hoping it does really well so I can employ more staff to make it even bigger!”

If this proves an overnight success it will have been a long time in the making. Andrew explains: “Over 10 years ago, we started making the general purpose Fenforge game engine and programming language – which Brighter Shores is implemented on top of. Then a bit over seven years ago we started working on Brighter Shores itself.”

The game itself looks fascinating and you can see more via YouTube and on the Steam website which describes Brighter Shores as “an all new adventure from award winning MMORPG designer Andrew Gower. Explore a land of magic and mysteries, with a huge number of professions to try, and something new to find around every corner.”

Brighter Shores

It sounds strange to say for someone who has been a gamer since the age of seven and co-founded Jagex – just sold for around $1 billion – but Andrew, now 45, retains all the enthusiasm of a new kid on the block as he plots fresh glories.

Is he planning further releases from Fen Research? Absolutely, he says, as he effortlessly rolls out a bulging future blueprint. It goes like this:-

1) Launch Brighter Shores and get a good update pipeline going for that game (with a team dedicated to regularly adding more content).

2) Launch Solstrike (this is a turn-based strategy game; it is a smaller game which we have in fact already made, but we want to launch Brighter Shores first so we have enough of a player base for Solstrike to work well).

3) Launch the Fenforge game engine. So other developers can use it to make their own games.

With no engagement with Jagex any longer, the world is now his oyster – or at least his own Gower peninsular! Andrew made his name and a relative fortune as co-inventor of RuneScape and remains vaguely surprised by its long-running success. He says: “I never dreamed it would remain popular for this long. But I am very glad it has. Creating computer games was originally my hobby.

“I have always loved making computer games and am quite happy to do it all day every day! I was very lucky that I was able to do what I love as my job.

“Now I don’t need to work anymore but I certainly don’t want to give up my hobby. I see what I am doing now more as a hobby that I am lucky enough to be able to pay other people to help me with! I would get bored very quickly if I stopped making computer games.”

The video games industry – in which Cambridge remains a world power – has had it tough in recent times with Frontier Developments taking a recent share price hammering and Jagex being sold on again but Andrew has faith in the sector’s staying power and ability to thrill vast international audiences.

He says: “I feel the biggest issue is the amount of competition and companies entering the video games industry. It is a huge industry but it is also very crowded so perhaps not surprising the impact that is having.

“But I think the industry as a whole will continue to grow. I am not too concerned personally as I still think there is lots of room for the right game – plus the fact that I have been careful to keep costs controlled and run the company in a way which I can sustain regardless.”