After nearly 30 years, Elite Dangerous and Planet Coaster studio CEO David Braben steps down

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Just shy of 30 years after founding the company, David Braben is stepping down as CEO of UK-based studio Frontier Developments. Braben will remain with the company in the newly-created role of president and founder, while longtime chief creative officer Jonny Watts will move into the chief executive position.

Braben, the creator of the groundbreaking 1984 space sim Elite, will still have a hand on the wheel: Frontier said he will “retain his leadership and vision for Frontier’s strategic direction, whilst maintaining and building key relationships within the games industry and the wider digital entertainment sector.” 

Even so, it’s a big change at one of the UK’s most important and longstanding game studios. Braben founded Frontier Developments in 1994, a year after the launch of Frontier: Elite 2, and has remained in the top position ever since. In 2015 he was given the Pioneer Award at GDC for his work on the Elite series, and he received the BAFTA Fellowship the same year, “in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film, television or games.”

Elite has persisted through the years as well. Frontier released Elite: Dangerous to acclaim in 2014, 30 years after the original, and it continues to be popular: The Azimuth Saga storyline concluded earlier this week, and further updates to the ongoing narrative are still in the works.

“Frontier is very important to me, and I am delighted to be able to pass on my CEO responsibilities to the exceptionally talented Jonny Watts, who I know will do a terrific job,” Braben said. “He has the perfect combination of creative leadership and gaming vision to build on the excellent momentum in the business. I am looking forward to my new role at Frontier, and this change enables me to focus on our longer-term strategic opportunities.”

Watts, who has been with Frontier for more than 20 years and has served as CCO since 2012, said he is “looking forward to working with David and the wider Board to take us to still greater success.”

Watts was also credited for his role in establishing Frontier’s “Develop, Launch and Nurture strategy,” which the company said in its 2021 report helped boost its profitability while reducing overall risk. Frontier earned a record-setting £114 million ($140 million) in revenues in its 2022 fiscal year.

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