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Rare Games closing in on Digbeth deal.

Digbeth is set to clinch a place at the heart of the global gaming industry after it emerged Microsoft is poised to take space in a converted church building in Birmingham's former industrial centre. Anna Blackaby reports y Rare Games, a Microsoft subsidiary which has produced titles such as Viva Pinata and Perfect Dark Zero, is in the final stages of negotiations to take the last remaining units at Digbeth's Fazeley Studios, The Birmingham Post has learnt.

The games developer has been linked to Microsoft's revolutionary technology Project Natal, expected to be released late next year, which relies on a motion sensor to enable players to control the game through their body movements instead of through a hand-held device.

An insider said: "We've been working on this for seven or eight months.

"It's a very big deal and one of many more developments to come."

Given it has been open for less than a year, Fazeley Studios -which is the sister development of creative industries hub The Custard Factory -looks set to pull off a huge coup by securing Rare Games as its final tenant.

The company, which is headquartered in Twycross, will rub shoulders with home-grown digital firms such as design firm Substrakt, video and production company Fullrange as well as the Ikon Gallery's outpost in Digbeth, Ikon Eastside.

Fazeley Studios occupies a 150-year old converted Unitarian chapel and adjoining Sunday School buildings as well as extensive former factory buildings converted to light and spacious studios.T he redevelopment of the site last year was led by Lucan Gray, the son of Custard Factory developer Bennie Gray, with gap funding from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.

Microsoft's choice of Digbeth as a location marks a step towards realising regeneration bosses' vision of the area as a key part of Birmingham's digital economy.

Digbeth is already home to hundreds of small firms working in the digital industries in developments like The Custard Factory, The Bond and Fazeley Studios, but lacks a heavy-hitting international presence in the sector.

The West Midlands has a long-established video games industry and although Codemasters-owned Swordfish Studios is located on Birmingham's Hagley Road, most of the major players are clustered around the Leamington Spa area.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture Martin Mullaney said it was "awesome" news and praised Fazeley Studios for contributing to the development of the digital economy in the area.

"It is fantastic what they are doing there -this is the future for Birmingham.

We're not going to get mass production manufacturing back to Birmingham but we can become in effect an ideas factory where stuff is made in the Far East but we are doing the design, research and thought processes."

Rare Games, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2002, has been linked with the global corporation's Project Natal, whose launch is highly anticipated by gamers all over the world.

The technology allows gamers to simulate actions such as driving a car or kicking a ball in order to control a game and has been billed as the successor to the Nintendo's hugely popular Wii.

Rare Games' origins go back to the 1980s when brothers Tim and Chris Stamper started creating games for early hardware like the Spectrum, going on to work on titles for subsequent technology like Nintendo's Game Boy and Microsoft's XBox 360.

Fazeley Studios and Advantage West Midlands both declined to comment on the story.

Microsoft did not respond to an invitation to comment.


Lucan Gray The headline-grabbing influence of Bill Gates and Microsoft could have massive repercussions for the region
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 26, 2009
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