A Visit to the Fantasy World of Ian Livingstone He Made Millions on Dungeons & Dragons, and Millions More Unleashing Lara Croft and Tomb Raider on the World. So Just What Kind of Mind Do They Spring From?
McGrath, Melanie, The Independent (London, England)
Something about Ian Livingstone's dream home doesn't quite fit. For the man who made his fortune first writing gory Fighting Fantasy books, then developing slasher games such as Tomb Raider, it is unnervingly neat and twee, a sort of manicured version of a home, something you might pick out of a catalogue.
Everything about Ian Livingstone is tidy and strictly managed. The manicured version of his life is, by now, public knowledge. He grew up in what he calls "a Coronation Street terrace" in Rusholme, Manchester, the only child of a Belgian mother and a salesman father who had met during the war. After a degree in business studies at Manchester University, he found himself in London, working for an oil company and "staring out of the window".
At 25 he moved into a flat in Shepherd's Bush with his old school pal and partner-in-games Steve Jackson, and set up Games Workshop, manufacturing and retailing fantasy games and models. The two routinely worked 18-hour days, returning home from their day jobs to run the games business. The big break came when Gary Cygax, the American inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, got in touch after seeing a newsletter put out by Games Workshop. Cygax was looking for a European distributor for D&D. Livingstone and Jackson persuaded him that they had something more to offer than a couple of square feet in Shepherd's Bush. "It was nail-biting stuff," says Livingstone. "On no account must Gary find out that the business was housed in a run-down flat." The distribution business took off and Jackson and Livingstone quit their day jobs. Eventually, their landlady got fed up with the endless mail and phone calls for Games Workshop and kicked them out. Undeterred, the pair hired an office, bought a van, joined a squash club with loos and a shower, and lived in the van. "Even though we were destitute because the bank wouldn't lend us any money, we were happy because we believed in what we were doing," Livingstone says. In 1977, the two friends opened Games Workshop's first retail store in Hammersmith. Their phenomenally successful Fighting Fantasy series of role-playing gamebooks for children (typically boys aged eight to 12) followed five years later. At their most productive, Jackson and Livingstone were churning out one Fighting Fantasy title every two months. In an age of hyped-up publishing phenomena, this was the real thing. The Fighting Fantasy series has sold more than 14 million copies in 23 languages. Livingstone and Jackson sold Games Workshop in 1991 for almost pounds 10m (it is worth more than pounds 200m now). At the age of 41, Livingstone retired to a life of fancy cars, plush yachts and golf courses. "I'd gone nuts. Penguin were just screaming for more (Fighting Fantasy books). There'd been such huge pressure." Livingstone's "retirement" lasted a year, during which he wrote two books, developed board games and got "bored crazy". With his entrepreneurial antennae twitching, he invested in a computer games company, Domark, and when Domark was acquired by Eidos in 1995, Livingstone followed. Always on the look-out for the next big thing, Livingstone spotted an artist's drawing of a big-breasted Riot Grrrl on a visit to a games development company called Core, in February 1996. "I just thought, this is it, so I bought the company." The Riot Grrrl became Lara Croft, the infamous heroine of the Tomb Raider series of adventure/slasher games which have gone on to sell millions of copies. His latest, Deathtrap Dungeon, based on one of his early Fighting Fantasy books, has just been released for the Playstation and is cresting the console charts. Livingstone won't say how much he is worth, but his shares in Eidos alone tot up to pounds 5m, and coupled with royalties from the books it can't be much less than pounds 10m. Enormous wealth, a grand new home, a new young wife, Frances, and a baby son, Jack, would be enough to satisfy most people, but at 47 Ian Livingstone hasn't even begun to ease off. …