A small company making video games has tonight sold out a concert at one of the most prestigious art venues in the world.

Such is the success of Brighton company The Chinese Room that all 600 tickets were snapped up fast for the show at the Barbican in London.

The firm, which employs just 12 staff, will be performing the soundtrack to mark the relaunch of one of its best selling games, Dear Esther, which has sold more than 800,000 copies around the world.

Today experts said the staggering success of the Preston Road company was proof of the importance of digital and creative firms to the local economy.

The digital economy is estimated to be worth £1billion to the local economy every year and employs 7,500 in the city.

Paul Nightingale, professor of strategy at University of Sussex, said: “The digital industry in Brighton is big, it is innovative and it's a really important part of the local economy.

"The ability to bring the creative and technical skills gives you the unique innovations that Brighton is famous for and something that is pretty unique to it."

At the venue, usually home to classical music concerts, The Chinese Room co-founder and composer Jessica Curry and her live band will feature strings, electronics and vocal, alongside narration from Nigel Carrington - whose voice features in the game, and co-founder Dan Pinchbeck as the live player.

Dear Esther is a computer game recognised for pushing forward the boundaries of game design and storytelling and was one of the standout independent releases of 2012. The studio won three BAFTA Game Awards for sound this year

Mr Pinchbeck said: “It’s been extraordinary, the take up for the concert and we’ve been really amazed. From what we can make out, it is a mix of people that love the game and people who don’t see themselves as gamers but are excited about a new type of concert.

“Game can bridge that divide and bring new audiences to classical music. But also show classical lovers that have dealt with traditional music, that there is an exciting world where amazing classical music is being written.

“It’s a big part of who we are - the music created for our games.”

Other digital technology success stories in the city include Brandwatch, a social media analytics company, and Spannerworks, a search firm bought by a US firm for £10 million.

Jon Pratty, Brighton Digital Festival chairman, said the industry is now becoming more and more visible in the city.

“Rather than just open their doors, now they’re doing talks and showing their products and new platforms. So they’re really getting behind the open office idea."


THEY are the husband and wife team behind one of Brighton’s best kept secrets.

Jessica Curry and Dan Pinchbeck are the founders of The Chinese Room, a multi-award winning games studio with games played by hundreds of thousands across the world. But their rise to success started with more humble beginnings.

Dan embarked on a PhD in “story as gameplay” at the University of Portsmouth in 2005 and developed research project Dear Esther as a free add-on to existing PC game Half-Life 2. He also recruited Jessica, then a freelance composer in film who he previously worked with, to compose the game’s score.

Dan said: “I was lecturing at the university and looking at research questions about games. Rather than do it theoretically, we decided to build games and let players tell us whether they work or not.

“One of those questions was if you remove the traditional game play and just left the story and an environment to explore, is that a game [Dear Esther] that people would enjoy and find engaging.”

Gamers loved it.

Released in 2007 as a free add-on, Dear Esther quickly amassed 100,000 downloads in six months. The pair brought on artist Rob Briscoe as a designer and were given capital from the Indie Fund to complete the project but no one expected it to make much money.

Dan said: “People really liked it so we thought wouldn’t it be great to turn this into a commercial game. We wanted to bring it to a wider range of people and do things we couldn’t when it was this little experiment.

“So we remade the game over the next couple of years, not really expecting anything to happen. But it sold 60,000 copies in the first week. And suddenly we were a games company and we thought let’s make some more games.”

The first year of the company’s life was based in Portsmouth with the team working remotely from home but Hassocks-born Dan was eager to move to Brighton. He had spent his formative years in Elm Grove and went to Varndean Sixth Form.

The 43-year-old said: “We needed to expand the team for our next game Rapture and everybody we recruited wanted to work in Brighton rather than work remotely. It was the easiest place to recruit people.

“There is a huge digital economy here. There are so many companies and studios in games, user experience design and programming. It’s a phenomenal city for creative industries.

“We’re really proud to be here and it’s a city which is perfect for creatives to live and work in. Easy going, vibrant and exciting, that’s why a lot of us are drawn here.”

The company now employs 12 people at its offices in Preston Road and has gone on to create two award-winning games; Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. And the game that started it all, Dear Esther, was newly released for Playstation 4 and Xbox One last month.

Speaking of Dear Esther, Dan said: “It’s a really good story told really well. It’s very atmospheric, emotional and speaks to a lot of people. It’s very accessible to people whether they see themselves as gamers or not. That’s something that is important to us as a company. I like the fact we make games my mom can play.”

But the path to success has not been so golden. Last year in October Jessica, 43, wrote a blog post about the gaming industry’s treatment of women.

She, wrote: “On a personal level I look back at my huge contribution to the games that we’ve made and I have had to watch Dan get the credit time and time again.

“I’ve had journalists assuming I’m Dan’s PA and publishers on the first meeting have automatically assumed that my producer is a boss just because he’s a man.

“When Dan has said ‘Jess is the brains of the operation’ people have chuckled and cooed that it’s nice of a husband to be so kind about his wife. I don’t have enough paper to write down all the indignities that I’ve faced.”

Dan and Jessica, who have been together for 16 years and have a son together, take pleasure in the fact they can work on their passion.

“We’re lucky because Dear Esther did so well because it has allowed us to make the games we wanted to make.

“We have a project next year which is really exciting. We are in secret talks with a publisher about a game bigger than anything we’ve done before and big departure for us.”


BRIGHTON’S digital and creative economy may be the city’s best-kept secret.

The industry is worth more than £1 billion to the city and boasts the highest concentration of digital companies in all the UK’s regions.

Key sectors include advertising and marketing, software development and games studios, employing an estimated 7,500 people locally.

Phil Jones, Wired Sussex managing director, said Brighton punches well above its weight with bigger cities it is often compared with, including Bristol and Manchester.

He said: “The particular thing Brighton does well is businesses which combine creativity and technology.

“VR (Virtual Reality) without creative content is useless but it is taking off in Brighton because the city enables creative and tech people to work together.”

Wired Sussex, a support organisation for digital media and tech business, runs a popular VR meet-up attended by firms like Make Real who create VR experiences and augmented reality devices.

Augmented reality is a type of virtual reality that aims to duplicate the world’s environment in a computer game.

And despite digital and creative companies being tucked away in offices, the industryaims to engage with the rest of the city. Last month Brighton Digital Festival celebrated digital culture with events such as open studios which saw 30 companies opening their doors to the public to talk about the innovative work they do.

But the industry is weary about the future. Mr Jones said: “I think the general consensus is Brexit is a bad thing. The sector depends on being open to trade and talent from the rest of the world and that really does include the European Union.”

Dan Pinchbeck, co-founder of The Chinese Room, agreed: “Anything that makes trading with European partners more complex, hurts companies financially. It is already a volatile industry so those type of things decrease investment and puts jobs at risk.”