Playground Games, Forza Horizon, founder set to launch new studio

Thomas Harrison-Lord
One of the Playground Games Co-founders, Gavin Raeburn, looks to be behind a brand new studio that’s recruiting racing game development talent at a rapid pace.
Playground Games, Forza Horizon, founders set to launch new studio 02

A curiously entitled ‘Unannounced Startup’ has sprung into life – a new video game development studio believed to be led by one of the co-founders of Forza Horizon creators, Playground Games.

Gavin Raeburn worked for 24 years at UK-based racing game creator Codemasters, before becoming the owner, CEO and Studio Director of Playground, founded in December 2009 to create the first Forza Horizon.

Gavin Raeburn, video game developer

The Warwickshire outfit has created each subsequent sequel, with external development help from the likes of Tencent-owned Sumo Digital, ever since. Along the way in 2018, Raeburn, alongside co-founders Ralph Fulton and Trevor Williams, sold the studio to Microsoft.

It was announced in January 2022 that he’d left the studio, leaving his post as Studio Director. It’s now understood that the racing game industry veteran is involved in the formulation of this new business.

Forza Horizon, Gavin Raeburn, Unannounced Startup

“Co-founder Trevor Williams will transition from General Manager to Studio Head effective immediately, as the Playground Games team focuses on updates to Forza Horizon 5 and the development of Fable,” read the statement at the time.

Now, he’s part of the intriguing ‘Unannounced Startup’, according to his LinkedIn profile.

‘Unannounced Startup’ in identical formatting has also been used by another former Playground Games alumnus, vehicle Car Handling Designer, Marco Conti, on 13th March when describing a new role. 

David Greco Unanounced Startup, racing video game developers

This news was also shared via a public LinkedIn post, with the new job role of ‘Vehicle Dynamics Director’. He’d previously worked on the Forza Horizon series at Playground for over nine years. 

At the same time, Ben Thaker-Fell, who worked at Playground for over 12 years, is also now at ‘Unannounced Startup’ as Principal Game Designer, while Jen Tse is the Lead Vehicle Artist for, yes, you’ve guessed it, ‘Unannounced Startup’. 

The latter moves from Sumo Digital, contributing to Forza Horizon 5. They join other ex-Forza Horizon developers Andrew Ward, Jon Davis-Hunt, Samuel Pay and Ryan Vardy at the company.

This also follows the news that former F1 game Senior Handling Designer, David Greco, is involved.

Forza Horizon 5 Subaru WRX STI 2015

What’s telling is not only the same parlance of ‘Unannounced Startup’, but if you click through on that company on the professional social media platform, all employees mentioned in this article are intrinsically linked – suggesting a coordinated public-facing strategy.

Our main takeaway is that there seems to be a new company, creating a game that involves driving (rather obviously), and isn’t the recently formed Maverick Games. We’re looking forward to hearing more in the (hopefully) near future. The more the merrier. 

What’s next for Playground Games?

Alongside the Raeburn-affiliated ‘Unannounced Startup’, several key Playground Games and Sumo Digital developers have also founded Maverick Games – made public in January of this year.

Forza Horizon 5 leads depart, found new Maverick Games dream team
Maverick Games, a new studio co-founded by former Playground Games and Sumo Digital leads

In that instance, Forza Horizon 5’s Creative Director Mike Brown founded the new independent ‘AAA studio’ alongside Harinder Sangha from Sumo Digital and former Playground colleague Tom Butcher.

The two new businesses have no doubt sapped creative talent from Microsoft’s studio – however, it still remains a significant outfit, with over 300 employees across its two studios.

Playground Games Lead Game Designer

According to existing job listings, it’s looking for Associate Art Director, Senior Audio Designer, Senior Producer, Senior Level Designer and crucially, a Lead Game Designer, for its Forza Horizon team.

Think of it this way – instead of just one Microsoft-exclusive studio, there are now three studios with Forza Horizon talent each activity developing titles. Hopefully, we all win.

Image source: creative commons

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