Copyright 2003

[ July 16th 2003 ]

Jeremy Heath-Smith, development director for Eidos, on Tuesday looked to have paid for the delays to the latest Tomb Raider game after the company announced that he would be leaving with immediate affect. The sudden exit of Mr Heath-Smith comes less than a month after the computer games company issued a profit warning, blaming the delay of getting heroine Lara Croft to gamers' screens.

Explaining his departure, Eidos said that now was the right time for a handover of responsibilities. It said: "Jeremy has overseen the development process for seven years and the board now believes that this is the time for change." But analysts believed that Mr Heath-Smith was "carrying the can" for the delays. Chris Agnew, of Goldman Sachs, said: "He oversees the studio and had been promising and didn't deliver, so somebody had to pay."

The eagerly awaited sixth Tomb Raider game, Angel of Darkness, was originally scheduled for release in November 2002. The company then set a February debut, followed by the promise of an April unveiling, culminating finally in the July 4 release date. The late launch date meant that revenues from the game came too late for the year-end of June 30, shaving what analysts estimated to be 10m ($16m) off pre-tax profits and triggering the profit warning. Since its launch, there have also been some grumbles from fans about problems in playing the action adventure game. Mr Agnew said: "It is a difficult game and the controls aren't what they should have been, so some people have been disappointed."

But even though heroine Lara can only be made to pummel her enemies to a bloody pulp by making several tricky console manipulations, the game is flying out of shops and has won the accolade of being the fastest-selling Tomb Raider game to date. Analysts also expect it to exceed the predicted 2m units of sales during its lifetime. Some observers welcomed what they saw would be an "injection of fresh blood" into the company, which has historically struggled with delays to its games, causing the share price to undulate like Lara's famous curves.

Mr Heath-Smith, founder of the company that developed Tomb Raider, spent the past three years as global head of development, joining the Eidos board in 1996 as an executive director. He joined Eidos after his company Core Designs was bought by CentreGold Limited, which was in turn bought by Eidos.

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