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Sumo Group General Counsel, Tim Repa-Davies

February 8, 2024

Sumo Group General Counsel, Tim Repa-Davies

Sumo Group General Counsel, Tim Repa-Davies, gives us some insight into the dynamic intersection between law and video game development. As the legal architect behind one of the industry’s leading creative powerhouses, Tim offers a glimpse into the challenges presented by the legal landscape surrounding video game development, publishing, and the evolving role of AI in creative processes. From celebrating Sumo’s 20th anniversary and its expansion into self-publishing with titles that have captured gamers’ imaginations worldwide, to the use of generative AI, this interview sheds light on life as an in-house lawyer in the video games industry. Tim also shares with us his personal journey from private practice to leading Sumo Group’s legal team, highlighting the unique opportunities and challenges that come with the transition to an in-house role.

This conversation is a must-read for lawyers intrigued by the impact of emerging technologies on intellectual property, privacy, and the broader legal issues facing the video games industry today. Tim’s in the process of expanding Sumo’s legal team now, with Andy Balmer in the driving seat (and occasionally the gaming chair!). Having recruited for Sumo before, Andy can give you the low down, if you’re interested in what Tim has to say.

Our interview with Tim is the latest in Florit Legal’s In-house Legal Journeys® series.

For those not familiar with it, tell us a little more about Sumo Group

The Sumo Group is a collection of award-winning studios specialising in video game development and creative services to the entertainment industries.  Sumo started as a premium work-for-hire developer creating video games for studios like Sony and SEGA, so I tend to describe Sumo as the “ghost-writers” of the video game world.  We have worked (and continue to work) on a lot of incredible games, but you might not necessarily know it was us!  The Sumo Group has grown from one studio (Sumo Digital) to nineteen studios across the UK, India, Canada, Poland and the Czech Republic creating games and providing services for titles on PC, console and mobile platforms.  Recent titles that our studios have developed or contributed to include Hogwarts Legacy, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Game, Mortal Kombat 1, and Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun.

In 2023 we celebrated our 20-year anniversary and while we continue to provide work-for-hire services to our excellent clients, we are now developing more of our own titles too. To round it off we also publish our games via our publishing company, Secret Mode, which adds an extra layer to the job from a legal perspective! 

What factors made you choose to work at Sumo and why is it such a good place to work?

I was fortunate enough in my time in private practice to work with Sumo Digital, and several of the studios that the Sumo Group eventually acquired like Auroch Digital in Bristol, Red Kite Games, in Leeds, and The Chinese Room, in Brighton!  I also helped with the set up of the group’s publishing arm, Secret Mode, and had built up a great commercial relationship with the group’s previous general counsel, Steven Webb.  I enjoyed my time in private practice and had a successful start to my career, including making partner with a leading London firm in 2021, and my practice was focused on the games industry.  Opportunities like this come around once a lifetime so when I heard that Sumo were hiring for a new GC I jumped at the chance.

Each studio in the Sumo Group has its own personality and ways of working, but all are underpinned by the group’s values to create a place of work that is free of prejudice and politics, a place for people to thrive, glued together by a passion to make games we are proud of. Essentially, the Sumo Group is a collection of really great people that look out for and support each other regardless of location, department, or discipline. The video games industry can be turbulent, but the group’s founders have worked hard to create a stable business that provides security for its staff as well as being a fulfilling place to work.

What projects have you enjoyed working on most and what challenges lie ahead for you and the legal team?

Acquisitions are always interesting so buying Midoki was fascinating.  It is our first mobile game development studio and the quality of the games they make (and are making) is incredible! 

2024 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Sumo! We have a couple of our own games releasing this year that we are also self-publishing. The publishing and compliance element to release your own games (especially multiplayer titles like Stampede: Racing Royale) is new from the legal team’s perspective and presents a great challenge for us to skill up on all things data privacy as well as preparing for the incoming Online Safety Act.  Being an international business, we also must prepare for EU legislation like the Digital Services Act. On top of that we continue to work on some premium AAA games for incredible clients.

What are the key issues facing the video games industry today, and what’s the impact for you as in-house lawyers?

A big question in the games industry is the use of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion.  There are business cases to be made for the use of such tools as they have the potential to speed up the prototyping and iterative processes, but at Sumo we only see such tools assisting rather replacing our talented people.  From a legal perspective I am naturally cautious around the use of such tools, and in particular the unknown details of how these tools have been trained. The potential for infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights remains a high risk in my opinion. We have implemented a policy at Sumo setting out the can and cannot do’s for using such tools on our projects, and have an AI Steering committee that monitors developments in the industry. I expect the use of Generative AI tools will remain a talking point for a few years to come.

Why is now a good time to join the in-house legal team at Sumo?

This year (2024) holds more of a publishing-focus for Sumo compared to previous years. While we have published indie game titles through our publishing-arm, Secret Mode, we are working on two larger budget titles in Still Wakes the Deep and Stampede: Racing Royale that require greater legal involvement to ensure that both have a smooth release.  Not to mention that “Stampede” is a 60-player kart racing game, and the multiplayer elements raise data privacy questions that need to be resolved prior to launch to ensure compliance.  In short we are moving from being primarily developer-focused to doing more of everything within the lifecycle of a game, from development, publishing, and post-launch support – and all of the legal challenges that come with running a large-scale video games development and publishing business.

Who’s been the most influential to you in your career? 

Rory O’Hare – currently a partner at Primas Law in Manchester.  When I was a trainee, the law firm I was training at went into administration which put my plans of being an IP lawyer in doubt. Rory (then Senior Counsel at DreamWorks Animation) helped keep my dreams alive by seconding me into the DreamWorks Animation legal team (where I also met my wife!), and he has been a great friend and mentor ever since!  Thanks Rory 😊

What’s the best piece of practical advice you’d give to someone in practice looking to move in-house?

Don’t move in-house if you expect an easy life.  There are some quality-of-life improvements (no time recording and billing!), but you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable!  You will regularly have to turn your hand to tasks and areas of law that are outside your speciality.

What’s your view of AI, from the perspective of an in-house lawyer?

I think artificial intelligence will play a huge role in the legal profession.  We are looking at AI solutions to reduce time on administrative tasks, and to help with drafting documents like NDAs and reviewing off-the-shelf terms and conditions.  In my opinion it would be detrimental not to embrace the technology as it develops because it is only improving and is not going to go away!  Anyone that needs convincing should read Richard Susskind’s thought provoking “Tomorrow’s Lawyers”!

What do you do to support your own mental health and that of your team?

I try to exercise at least four times a week, or at the very least make sure I get out for a walk each day.  I encourage my team to take breaks and do what makes them happy.  While we are a busy team we can’t forget that we are just helping to make video games at the end of the day, and the work is always there so looking after each other is a priority.

How did work patterns change as a result of Covid?

Without Covid I can’t see most games companies implementing remote or hybrid working.  Pre-covid we were bound by various security requirements from our clients.  Covid changed everything since everyone was needing to work from home.  We adapted ways of working to allow for remote or hybrid roles without sacrificing security or the quality of the work we produce.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Gardening, when the weather allows, and cooking/baking when it doesn’t!  Playing video games and watching anime too when time allows.

What was your very first job?  

Lifeguard at the University of Nottingham swimming pool at 16. It taught me a lot of patience!

What’s the most enjoyable book you’ve read in the last year?

Can I suggest a video game instead?!  I love the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series of games, and have not long finished “Like A Dragon: Ishin” which has all the seriousness and silliness of other games in the series but set in Edo-era Japan!  It’s great fun!

I have also been dipping in and out of Vampire Survivors which is a perfect game if you want a bite (pun intended) size game that can be picked up and put down. It won Best British Game at the BAFTAs last year, and you can find my name in the credits as it was made by one of my former clients!

Despite working at a video game company, I do still read books!  I have just finished The Trees by Percival Everett, which I would highly recommend.

Favourite film or play? (… okay, or video game!)

It is impossible to pick just one but I have a tier of favourite video games, including the following: Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, Persona 4 Golden, Suikoden I & II, Paradise Killer, 80 Days, Over the Alps, The Simpsons: Hit & Run, and The Saboteur.

Favourite gadget? (… and is there a pattern emerging? 🤣)

My Steam Deck as it allows me to play PC games on the go!

Favourite restaurant?

No.12 in Nottingham.

Favourite holiday destination so far, and where might be next?

Current Favourite: Cephalonia, Greece.

Where Next: Japan for our covid-delayed honeymoon!

At the end of a hard week, what’s a treat that you look forward to?

Pizza on a Saturday night!

Besides being a lawyer, if money were no object and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to try or do?

Maybe start my own games company since success is never normally guaranteed!

What would you say is your guilty pleasure?

My Crunchyroll subscription!

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