There was much rejoicing amongst fans, and a little bit of anti-US-dev insta-kneejerk going on in Twitter, so I thought I'd write up why it's an interesting subject, and why I agree with BBC WW on this one.
MMO + Doctor Who = many, many people's idea of heaven.
There's much history bundled in this, a lot of it not public per se, and it's confusing, too: one of the issues with the BBC is that it often has trouble defining what it is (public service broadcasting: does that include computer programs? Soap operas?? WAP portals??? (yes to all three historically, and more)).
The BBC is fully funded by the UK's TV License Fee, which brings the BBC revenue in the region of 3.5bn UKP per year, or something like that.
Separately, there's BBC Worldwide. BBC Worldwide is a "wholly-owned subsidiary" of the BBC: a commercially-run company, owned by Auntie Beeb, but run like - well, like Sky, or Channel 4, or Disney. Sort of. And here's how it works, with the caveat that it seems no-one really knows how it works: BBC Worldwide has - or had, I'm not sure if it's current, but it certainly had for a very long time - "first look" rights to the BBC's IP treasure chest, and it operates globally using the BBC logo.
These two things obviously give BBC Worldwide an enormous, almost unquantifiably valuable leg-up.
BBC WW is a trust-fund child: given free and seemingly unlimited access to the parent's assets and status, it's not had problems earning money. It sells smash-hit UK TV formats abroad, and has a production studio in LA; it does DVD sales, videogames publishing, magazine publishing, books publishing, you name it. It's making money hand over fist.
So, back to the Doctor Who annoucement: some UK devs are a bit upset about the dev money going to the USA; I saw one tweet (and retweeted it), but on chatting further, apparently there are plenty of UK devs also complaining. So here's what I think has happened.
1. BBC WW is the commissioner, not the BBC. The BBC, the public service outfit, definitely has a remit to support UK devs. But BBC WW, the commercial outfit, does not.
2. The BBC generally has a somewhat peppered history in Doctor Who commissioning. When BBC WW could have licensed the property to, SAY, Lego Doctor Who, it didn't. It spent maybe a year, year and a half, developing a Doctor Who game with an outfit in Australia. The BBC content team is in Wales. Apparently this didn't work well. BBC PSB recenly commissioned Sumo to produce the freebie PC "episodes" (heh), but Sumo had to go head-to-head with some non-UK-based Scandinavians for the commission, for some reason.
3. Fairly recently, the original Wales-based Doctor Who PSB commissioning team moved from Cardiff to LA, where they remain. The licensing for Doctor Who also - I think - moved to LA. So now while the content is still shot in Wales, certainly the "global brand" lives elsewhere.
4. BBC WW has commissioned Three Rings, who are a very particularly talented company: they make casual, web-based "MMOs", like Puzzle Pirates. I put MMO in quotes, because I think naturally most folks think World of Warcraft when they hear MMO, or maybe Runescape and APB in the UK, perhaps. (And Three Rings are west-coast based too: a hop and a skip from LA.)
The BBC needs a company who gets Doctor Who, and its audience: children, and old people. Seriously, it's children, and old people. The over 55s watch over 35 hours a week of telly, massively skewing the "average age" of a TV viewer, which for BBC1 is approx 51 years old. It's 57 for BBC2. Channel 4 - the "youth" channel - average age is 45.
- So, casual and web-based: easy to reach kids and old people. Tick.
- Is there a UK equivalent making casual, webbased MMOs? Nope. This is key.
- Near LA, is massively talented: tick.
- Run by someone who gets it: tick. Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings, is a Brit, and a Brit of the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, too. Tom Baker is the equivalent of Star Wars: if you were born in or around 1971 (nerd year zero), Tom Baker was your Doctor. James gets it. Anyway, check out their offices: speaks volumes.
Clearly I think this is a coup for BBC WW: they've signed a corker of a company, huge credibility, and this product is going to kick Brit arse and Merkin ass at exactly the same time.
What this doesn't answer is why the BBC (PSB) only has a 25% indie dev guarantee, and why it does so much in-house and often seeminly haphazardly. And all of this backhistory is rolled up in this story: how come BBC WW, who is exploiting a Public Service (and therefore license-fee-payer "owned") product, gets to not have to support UK devs?
How come the BBC has such a low indie commitment, while Channel 4, say, has a 100% indie support commitment, shoudn't the Beeb's be higher?
And on it rolls. Herein lies the UK devs irritation, I'm sure.
The BBC (PSB) is in trouble: it has to save £500m over the next few years, and frankly its vision is weak: it's retreating into TV for some reason, while all data points to the internet being the platform of choice for the future (for everything, not just broadcasting TV content). The BBC (PSB) spends a billion pounds a year on TV, but only 150m on "internet" which it's reducing now, and cutting back further on how much it spends on UK devs.
Meanwhile BBCWW gets bigger, and hungrier, and more commercial: inevitably, maybe, one day - especially in a Tory-led government - someone will begin to suggest that WW lead the money-making, and the license-fee is reduced. But that day would mean that the BBC is commercially-led, and not public-service led: profits first, remit later.
Which changes everything.
[Any updates or corrections welcome; this is opinion on a blog and not well-researched Fact as I sit here writing it mid-session at GDC; plus I haven't worked at the BBC for, oh, 4 years now, so any added info always a bonus.]