Kuju Entertainment was first established in 1998 following Ian Baverstock and Jonathan Newth’s management buyout of Simis, one of Guildford’s earliest and most historically significant game development studios. Simis specialised in flight simulation games and had 60 full time employees when they released their final game in 2000.
From that point onwards, the team would release games under their new identity as Kuju and in time, broaden their horizons to work on a much wider range of genres and platforms. The name of the new company was created after finding the numbers nine and ten in the Japanese dictionary, “ku” and “juu”. These numbers signifying the position of the founders first initials in the alphabet.
Kuju Entertainment’s first major commercial success would be Microsoft Train Simulator in 2001. Representing the first mass market train simulator ever produced, the game ultimately sold over a million copies. Despite its age the game is still very popular today, enjoying a large and active fan base evidenced by the 1000+ mods created for the game and maintained by its community. It was this focus on actively supporting user generated content that enabled its success, a business model first developed by Simis and seen in their release of Flight Sim Toolkit 10 years earlier.
Following this success, Kuju secured a contact with British car manufacturer Lotus and released Lotus Challenge in the same year. Guildford would soon become well known for its racing game development expertise and Lotus Challenge represents a very early example of local success in the genre. The game was noted for its ability to accurately represent ‘driving feel’ over tracks with sudden elevation changes and bumps in the road. One reviewer later commented that this still had not been mastered by other developers even in the next generation of games consoles.
Working with Lotus opened Kuju’s eyes to the world of licensed game development, collaboration with major brands would become a key strategy for the studio going forward. In 2002, Kuju floated on the Alternative Investments Market of the London Stock exchange and soon afterwards, would secure a license with The Games Workshop to develop Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, a first-person shooter with multiplayer game modes. This game marked the first of many Kuju titles produced by James Brooksby, who would later go on to lead Kuju studio Doublesix and establish multiple prominent Guildford game development studios of his own.
Kuju would go on to release 34 full featured games from Guildford and through their 'work for hire' business model, producing games in partnership with major brands and other game development studios, earned status as Europe’s largest external game development studio.
Kuju spawned multiple game development brands within Guildford and far beyond including; NiK NaK (Guildford), DoubleSix (Guildford), Zoë Mode (Guildford), Zoë Mode (Brighton), Zoë Mode (San Francisco), Zoë Mode (London), Headstrong Games (London), Chemistry (Sheffield), Kuju America, Kuju Manilla and VATRA Games (Czech Republic).