Forza Horizon Creative Director Mike Brown Leaves Playground Games to Set Up New Studio

Image via Maverick Games/@MaverickGames

In a completely unexpected development, the now-former creative director for Playground Games, Mike Brown, has parted ways with the company to form a new AAA studio along with some of his former coworkers.

The new studio goes by the name of Maverick Games, and counts other senior staff from Playground among its new employees. Notably that includes lead producer Tom Butcher and audio director Fraser Strachan — the man responsible for Forza Horizon 5’s lauded current audio direction.

Brown will take up the role of studio lead at Maverick, with Harinder Sangha as the chief operating officer (COO). Sangha herself is, an award-winning studio leader who helped form Sega Hardlight and Sumo Leamington.

Fans will be familiar with Brown and Butcher who’ve been on almost every Forza Monthly and Forza Horizon Let’s Go stream over the past few years — and perhaps, in hindsight, the fact that neither Brown or Butcher has been present on the streams since August 2022 was something of a clue.

Maverick Games currently has a staff of 10 employees, with an aim to grow that significantly over the coming weeks and months; an aggressive recruitment drive actually crashed the new company’s website earlier today.

Other PG staff to make the short switch between the companies — both based in Royal Leamington Spa, UK — include technical director Matt Craven, who becomes CTO at Maverick, and Gareth Harwood who moves from technical art director to content lead.

Benjamin Penrose, who left PG in 2020, returns to join the Maverick team as art director, while Elly Marshall joins from the shuttered Slightly Mad Studios as UX/UI director. All current members of staff are also listed as co-founders of Maverick too.

Naturally this is all exciting in terms of new projects, but fans will have concerns about Forza Horizon. For the time being, FH5 is likely to carry on with the same support it’s had since launch in 2021 — any content already finished or in active development will be unaffected by the departures and probably been planned months in advance.

The future of the Horizon franchise is a different question though; Playground has yet to reveal its restructure following the news, and in particular who’ll take Brown’s place as creative director. However with the relatively familiar feel of FH5 follow FH4, a new hand on the tiller could mean a fresh take and “rejuvenation” of the series.

We wish Mike Brown and the rest of the ex-Playground Games staff the best in their new venture, and look forward to seeing if they continue their love of cars with a new driving title.

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