Jason Kingsley does not like playing computer games against his younger brother Chris.
“We only play collaborative games,” he says. “I have no problem teaming up with him to fight aliens, but we don’t play against each other. It creates too much tension.”
Tension, these days, could mean a boardroom crisis, as the Kingsley brothers are co-founders of Rebellion, the UK games development company behind titles such as Alien vs Predator and Call of Duty: World at War. Jason is chief executive and creative director, and Chris is chief technical officer.
The Kingsleys are not unusual. The games industry is full of companies founded and run by brothers.
Ubisoft, the French games publisher, was started by the five Guillemot brothers: Yves, Michel, Christian, Gerard and Claude. Codemasters, the Leamington Spa-based publisher, was founded by David and Richard Darling.
In Germany, the Yerli Brothers – Cevat, Faruk and Avni – run Crytek, which is best known for the game Far Cry.
In the US, Karthik and Guha Bala are the founders of Vicarious Visions, the Activision studio that developed Guitar Hero.
There are many others, from Jagex, launched by Andrew and Paul Gower, to Rare, the UK studio founded by Tim and Chris Stamper and bought by Microsoft in 2002.
The reason for this statistical oddity has to do with both human nature and an accident of history.
The UK games industry, in particular, has its roots in the 1980s, when a legion of schoolboys started using early computers and writing their own games.
“It’s obvious that two boys with an interest in computer games would feed off each other,” says Paul Collyer, who set up Sports Interactive, the maker of Football Manager, with his brother Oliver.
Many games company founders started very young. Karthik Bala was 15 and his brother Guha 14 when they started developing their first game. It took five years to finish and they think only brothers would have persevered.
“Doing it with your brother is different to having a high school band that splits up when you all go your separate ways after graduation,” says Karthik. “We thought it would make us rich and famous, but neither of those things happened. We didn’t receive the royalties we were promised and were left with a lot of debt. It was a difficult time but was a revelation – it was not just about building a game but building a business.”
Yves Guillemot, chief executive of Ubisoft, believes the talent of five brothers was an advantage for the company, especially in the early days. “My brother Michel saw it was going to be a big opportunity and called his brothers to help him. We had all been to university, so the company got people it would not have been able to recruit otherwise as a small business,” he says.
Deciding who takes what role has been relatively easy for most brothers, as there is often a natural division of labour.
“Cevat is the technological and creative genius,” says Avni Yerli, managing director of Crytek. “I do the strategic planning. My brother Faruk, who has a background in marketing, is in charge of the studio operations.”
Of course, the arrangement is not always purely beneficial, and many of the brothers say they “frequently” disagree.
“We have come close to killing each other,” says Guha Bala. “We have even had to have some parental involvement to sort things out.” Now that they run a studio of more than 200 people, the brothers have to keep things professional rather than personal.
Such close-knit partnerships can also leave employees feeling excluded. A senior manager at one games company run by brothers comments: “There were definitely some decisions that were taken at the boardroom table and some that were taken round the kitchen table.”
But Guha Bala insists that arguments are important. “The advantage of brothers is that the gloves can really come off,” he says. “You can be very honest with each other if you think something isn’t right.”