At first glance, Mark Estdale seems every inch the reluctant entrepreneur. Outsource Media – the voice production venture he established over ten years ago – was originally conceived as a lifestyle business that would enable him to spend plenty of time with his children. Moreover, he even admits, ‘I love [what we do] because it’s great fun, but I always wondered how we’d actually make money from it.’
He shouldn’t have worried. Three years ago Estdale’s marriage ended in divorce and, working alongside his friend Dean Gregory, he began to take work more seriously. Subsequent progress has been rapid.
Today, Outsource Media is regarded as one of the leading voice production companies in the interactive gaming market and is benefiting from what Estdale describes as the increasing importance of production in games. It has recorded voice tracks for all the major gaming platforms, from PC through to PlayStation, has worked for most of the major games publishers and has recently been entrusted to develop several of the launch titles for Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 console.
Estdale’s team have also won admiration from more unexpected circles. ‘We started getting approaches from people in Hollywood because of what we were doing in the games industry,’ the enthusiastic Estdale explains. ‘The first company we worked for was an arm of DreamWorks Animation and the first time we arrived in Hollywood Ron Howard and his team were leaving the studio just as we were arriving.’
Offices in both Los Angeles and San Francisco have now been opened and, most recently, Outsource Media has been working on sound production for both the film and computer games versions Curse of the Wererabbit, Aardman Animation’s latest Wallace & Gromit adventure.
Not content with the company’s burgeoning reputation, however, Estdale’s attentions have turned to adding value to his business’ basic proposition. Outsource Media is currently building the world’s largest specialist voice production studio up in Sheffield and has also been busy developing its own software tools to make the editing process simpler.
‘We’ve approached things from the point of view of how we keep the creative edge,’ Estdale comments, and the key is that you ‘don’t want your creative people wasting all of their time dealing with the technical issues, as we’ve been working on projects I’ve asked questions like ‘why can’t we develop a button which does this or that?’
The reasoning behind this move is pragmatic. ‘We are now probably at the stage where we could bring in private equity funding,’ says Estdale, ‘but I think it would be nice to be bought by someone bigger. I can imagine people in the film industry wanting to buy us.’