How the iPad Changed Everything...

I'm currently sitting watching the stream from today's Apple event in Cupertino, they've just announced the iPad Air 2 (much to the chagrin of one of my iPad Air - owning team) and it reminded me how much things have changed in the last 3-4 years thanks to Apple.

Just this morning I witnessed a scene which distilled this change more clearly than I would have ever thought possible. On the way to work i stopped off at our local Tesco filling station, it was about 9:30 - hardly peak time, and it's a big station so you wouldn't expect it to be too busy - but what greeted me was an end-of-the-world-style scene reminiscent of a George A. Romero movie - cars queueing 5 deep, people shouting at each other in frustration and trying to barge each other out of the way in order to get to the pumps.

Did some kind of flash fuel crisis which cause panic buying? Was there some kind of crazy special offer they were all racing to get? No... it was an upgrade of the pumps.

Last night, the station had upgraded to the new system pictured above which allows you to pay at the pump. The problem was that, faced with this new pretty colour screen, the customers couldn't work out that they had to use the buttons below to control it - they all assumed that it was a touch-screen and therefore couldn't get it to work, they didn't even notice the fisher-price-style buttons beneath it!

4-5 years ago this would have been inconceivable - most people rarely encountered touch screens in their daily lives - but now the technology is so ubiquitous people find it difficult to understand when it's not used. So, did iPad change everything? I have to say, I think so.

Good work Apple - looking forward to getting my hands on the iPad Air 2!

(Where's my

Apple TV update

?! Please!!!)

Professional Foot-in Mouth Provider?

I really must do some media training or something - or at least learn to think a bit before I speak.

Yesterday I was on a panel at the very brilliant UKIE - it was and event on funding and although I felt like a bit of a fraud (as we've never received any funding in the normal sense) I guess I have managed to keep a company afloat for 12 years and obviously my Dragons Den experience was of interest to some.

However during the event, for some reason, I went on a bit of a rant about production companies being ripped-off and taken advantage of. This can sometimes happen in panels - you sit there for 2 hours waiting to say your piece and then when you finally get the chance you blurt it all out at once in an unintelligible babble and sound like a total spanner... sigh. Anyway, although I stand by what I said - it is a danger - I'm aware that my actual point didn't come across so, for the record, here it is:

Over 12 years in the digital/games industry we have been ripped off and taken advantage of on many occasions.

The kind of thing i'm talking about can range in severity from someone literally taking your proposition and giving it to someone else to build through to people using you as a free consultancy service - for example, pulling you into meetings to pick your brains, help them sell in an idea etc etc.

Unfortunately, if you want to do anything like what we do this is something that you're going to have to learn to both accept it and protect yourself against as best you can. Over the years I have developed a few rules which help to reduce the risk a little which are as follows:

  1. Don't pitch creative ideas unless you have a paper-trail to back it up. This won't stop people using your ideas but it will significantly reduce the chance of them nicking them wholesale.
  2. Set realistic limits on what you're prepared to do in order to win an opportunity - to start with I would write a 4-6 page pitch document for every opportunity complete with several full-colour mock-ups but latterly we're more likely to provide a black&white sketch and a 400 word outline in the first instance.
  3. Don't pitch for pitches. There are a lot of agencies out there who try to use small production companies to bolster their pitches for them. They'll do their main pitch and then get 3-4 specialists to give them additional ideas to tack on the end. We responded to these kinds of ops for the first 8 years or so but in that time not a single one came off so we don't any more.
  4. Try and develop a proposition which is difficult to steal for example a house-style or some proprietary tech which only you can provide.
  5. Beware of "Research firms" or "events companies" that you've never heard of. Some (but not all) could be funded by your competition as a way to get hold of your confidential information, or worse, your clients. Do some research before you agree to speak to anyone about what you're doing and definitely before intro'ing them to your client!

However... bearing in mind all of the above - try not to let it stop you talking to people! Gladly there are still more good people out there than bad. Doing business is not just about the numbers - it's about building relationships which - in turn - means making as many connections as possible. You just need to find a way to identify the dodgy ones quickly and stop them doing too much damage to your business.

Well, there you go! I hope that both clarifies my position and helps a bit too!

Benchmarks for Games are Bollocks?

Yesterday I was at the UKIE AGM (a triumph once again) and while I was there I received a good-natured ribbing for my recent performance on the BBC's Dragons Den - I'm probably paraphrasing badly but I think the comment was something like "I don't know, go on Dragons Den, forget your numbers, make the games industry look stupid...". Whilst this was clearly meant in jest and was forgotten moments later I've just been reminded of it by an article on GamesBrief by Nicholas Lovell.

You see the thing is - whilst I agree it came across like that - I think it's a bit unfair. Like any telly, it was cut to tell a story - but more importantly:

1) In my opinion (a position supported by this article) benchmarks in the games industry at the current time are effectively meaningless. At best they can be considered as an average of a hugely chaotic system and, even then - since unsuccessful projects are less discussed - probably only an average of the minority of successful projects. In my opinion there are other, more useful variables we can be looking at.

2) Ultimately any an investor is only really interested in profit and it seems pretty clear that in the current market you either make nothing or millions.

3) Obviously, you're not likely to be writing a business plan based on making nothing so we have to assume you'll make millions - it's just a question of how many.

4) At this point your investment proposition becomes quite simple - effectively 3 variables:
  • How much money you need
  • How many millions you think you can make
  • Your chances of success.
So, for example (and keeping the maths simple) if you're looking for £100k and aiming to return a million then you need to create a business plan which makes a convincing case that you've got a better than 10:1 chance of success.

Now, the amusing thing about all this is that when i went into the Den the forecasts I had were based on a series of industry benchmarks and a revenue forecast taken directly from the GamesBrief site! Frankly, I wasn't at all confident in the numbers which - regardless of how it was cut - clearly came across in the Den. In hindsight I wish I'd used a rationale similar to the above but at least, now Nicholas has said he's also not super-confident in the numbers either, I feel a little bit vindicated.

Hopefully all this will settle down over the next couple of years but in the meantime, if we expect people outside the games industry to invest, I think we need to try and simplify what we're doing and make the variables easier to understand, measure and - most importantly - communicate.

Dragons Den - Develop Interview

Having survived (if not actually triumphed) in the Den has been a strange experience - I was very pleased that to see the interview I did for Develop published this morning - whilst the show was awesome it did rather focus on the amusing moments of the pitch so it's nice to be able to show that there was a little bit of thought that went into it too!

Anyway, check it out at:

Big thanks to James from Develop and Stu from Dead Good Media.

Dragons Den & The Magnificent Stunts - Part 1

If you're reading this then you probably already know that I was on Dragons Den and while I can't say what happened until it airs, I thought it might be interesting to tell you a bit of what led to it.

Before I do though, you might want to have a look at the three games that we were there to pitch which are now complete:

Stunt Gal iconStunt Gal - Available Now!
only on the App Store (iPhone/iPad)

Stunt Guy iconStunt Guy 2.0 - Available now on:
Google Play for Android and the App Store for iPhone/iPad

Reg The Roadkill icon Reg the Roadkill - Out Now!
Only on the App Store for iPhone & iPad

All done? Awesome lets continue.

Without doubt going on Dragons Den was one of the hardest things I've done in my career and not an experience I'd repeat in a hurry.

I applied at the beginning of the year. We'd finished our biggest game ever (Red Bull Kart Fighter 3) in the summer of the year before and had since been working on a series of games featuring two characters we'd developed: Guy and Gail Stunt, a hollywood stunt couple also known as The Magnificent Stunts.

We'd done some amazing work on the project but progress had been slower than I'd anticipated - money was getting tight and I was aware that once we finished the games we might have a problem with finding the resources to promote them. I started speaking to publishers and investors to see if we could get someone to partner with us on the project but it was clear that if we didn't find something soon we'd either have to change the plan or do something radical.

Then whilst working late one night, I had a brainwave (admittedly not a particularly original one), I should apply to go on Dragons Den! Even if we didn't get the money we'd stand to gain some promotion for the games - we couldn't loose. So I wrote a hasty submission, hit send and to my surprise I got a call a few weeks later to say they were interested.

Over the next few weeks we had periodic contact with the production team and were invited to go up for an audition. Unfortunately the audition didn't go that well and I wasn't at-all sure we'd get on the show but our contact at the Beeb was still positive and said he'd be in touch to let us know what the producers decided. We did the only thing we could do - wait - and got on with the project.

Money was still tight but, thankfully, in early spring we won another project from our good friends at Red Bull UK - a collection of HTML5 games which have since been published as Red Bull Focus. It was an awesome project - a collaboration between us and 3 other companies: A behavioural science consultancy, a hardcore design house and a digital agency. It was also quite a bit of work but somehow we managed to get that, and Stunt Guy 2.0 finished by the beginning of May. We published Red Bull Focus, submitted Stunt Guy 2.0 to Apple and started planning for the launch.

This was the first time we'd undertaken a real launch ourselves so we decided to recruit some help. We engaged the services of the amazing to help us out from a press point of view, put a little ad campaign together and - thanks to an inspired suggestion by Dead Good - planned a last-minute launch stunt involving no less than 12 double-decker busses. Satisfied with what we'd achieved, we sat back to see what would happen - the last thing I was expecting that week was another call from the Beeb.

It was a few days after the SG2.0 launch, they wanted me for the show and what's more it was set to shoot in only a week or two's time. I took a deep breath and thought about it - the launch seemed to have gone fairly well thus far (we'd had "Best New App" features in China, Japan Turkey and Brazil) so I agreed to go on.

The following day however, I had a bit of a shock. Most people don't realise this but when you go on Dragons Den there's quite a bit of administration to do for it - you have to go through a rigorous due diligence process that I'd completely forgotten about. It's time consuming enough to do this for a start-up business (as most of the companies on the show are) but doing it for an 11-year old business like mine is a lot of work - particularly as I didn't even have a completed business plan (for this new direction) at that point. So, once again I set to work - ploughing through all the paperwork, sourcing documents from our various partners and suppliers and somehow managing to keep our projects going alongside. Then we got some more bad news - we'd been monitoring the progress of Stunt Guy 2.0 and despite the promising start we were losing users much more quickly than we'd anticipated. - there had to be something serious wrong with the game design.

After a bit of poking about in the stats I finally realised what was going wrong. In the final stages of production we'd taken the decision to tunnel the users directly into the first set of 5 levels in order to get them into the game as quickly as possible. As a result the users were mistakenly assuming that we only had 5 levels and the game felt too small and aggressive in its sales approach. Added to that - when we'd developed the game progression we'd "taken inspiration" from Rovio's "Angry Birds Go" which has users iterating over levels vertically, increasing the difficulty and varying the challenge as they progress. I had wondered about the wisdom of this at the time but "hey" we thought, "Rovio must know what they're doing right?!". Well, maybe this approach works in their game but - having since changed Stunt Guy - I can tell you for sure that it didn't work for us. Quite simply changing the structure to be horizontal instead of vertical more than doubled the length of time people spent in the game. Not a mistake I'll be making again.

Anyway that week I somehow managed to get all the due diligence stuff done, work with the dev-team to get a revised build submitted and wrote the business plan (complete with the world's most complicated forecasting spreadsheet). I finished it at about 5am on the day before I had to travel up to manchester for the shoot. I got up the next morning, got on the train, sorted out a few last business issues and went to the studio to rehearse the start of the shoot (you'll see why this was necessary when you watch it). At about 9:30pm I went back to the hotel expecting the mother of all sleeps before an early start the following day.

Frustratingly I didn't sleep a wink that night so when I got up - I was broken, I could hardly string a sentence together let alone remember my pitch, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the show to see what happened next.

"Was That YOU I Just Saw on Dragons Den?"

"What? Er, I couldn't possibly comment"

For the last few days discussion on my phone, email and Facebook has pretty much run along those lines and although it's been a touch overwhelming at times it's also been really sweet to know how many people both still recognise me and are prepared to compliment (lie about) the beard I'm currently sporting.

So, anyway, as discussed in slightly more detail on the Kempt blog, revealed on the Dragons Den trailer and hinted at on their site. It rather looks like I'll be appearing on Dragons Den next Sunday the 17th of August.

I'm not supposed to say anything about it and I wouldn't be saying anything now if it wasn't for the trailer so you'll have to wait for the show to see what happens. But, if the rumours are true, I hope you'll spare a moment of sympathy for me as I endure an experience which I can only imagine to be about a billion-times worse than the agony of listening to your own answering machine message.

Anyway - Stunt Gal has launched and all three "Magnificent Stunts" are now out - whoohoo!!!

Stunt Gal iconStunt Gal - Available Now! only on the App Store (iPhone/iPad)
Stunt Guy icon
Stunt Guy 2.0 - Available now on: Google Play for Android and the App Store for iPhone/iPad
Reg The Roadkill icon
Reg the Roadkill - Out Now! Only on the App Store for iPhone & iPad

Non-Standard Careers Advice

Today I visited a local school to do a careers talk - one of many that I've done in the area since we moved here. As ever it was loads of fun to do - it's great to chat to kids about the industry and, lets face it, Me is one of my favourite subjects :)

Anyway - since the talk is fresh in my head I thought it might be useful to jut down some of my key tips in case someone out there can benefit. So here we go:

If you want to have a great career in the creative industries I suggest you:

1) Be Interested
As well as interesting. Whilst you should be proud of your ideas and skills, remember that experienced people probably won't be so impressed initially. They're probably wrong, you're definitely going to be the next big thing, but there's still a huge amount you can learn from them. Remember that creative people love to talk about themselves so, be interested, ask as many questions as possible and wait for them to be interested in you.

2) Be Confident
Following on from the above though, be confident in your abilities and - if you're young - remember that things change quickly and it's only a matter of time before they are out of date and you are the new breed. You can do it, go for it! But do avoid telling people that you're gunning for their job.

3) Be Brave (but not stupid)
Don't be afraid to take a risk here and there if it feels like the right thing to do - particularly while you are young. Bear in mind that the consequences of procrastination are often worse than the consequences of acting and that it's easier to make mistakes when you don't have any commitments. Generally, the further you can get in your 20s the more successful you'll be in your 30s onwards.

4) Be Kind
Remember that your relationships are the the lifeblood of any creative business, nurture and maintain them at all costs and try not to abuse them. It's okay to ask for help now and again but it's important that you try to balance it by returning the favour if at all possible. Sometimes it's just as simple as telling people how much you appreciate their assistance.

5) Be Open
Don't approach every relationship as if you're looking for something out of it - be open to new people from different sectors, you never know where the next opportunity will come from.

6) Be Lucky
Remember that if you get on with stuff you can craft your own luck out of the "luckticles" that surround you all the time - often referred to as opportunities - so pick an activity and get stuck in!

7) Be Strong
If you're aiming to be successful in the creative industries it's only a matter of time before someone tries to knock you down a peg or two. Remember that: it's almost never personal, the person doing the knocking may also have their own challenges which might, in turn, be influencing their actions and - most importantly - never discount the possibility that they might be in the right. If you're going to aim high it's inevitable that you're going to make a few mistakes along the way.

Well, there you go! Hope someone finds that helpful and - if you do - please do let me know!

Channel 4 Gives Advergames a Kicking

...But also confirm they work?

Earlier this week Channel 4 decided to give the advertising industry a bit of a kicking by alleging that they create games that market junk food to kids and, to ram their point home they paid a visit to a couple of digital agencies and secretly recorded them discussing a fake brief to market a soft drink product to the under 12s.

You can check out the show here:

Having just watched the show, and having made a few Advergames myself over the years, I think it's worth making a few points:

  1. Advergames definitely aren't solely or even primarily aimed at kids - we've built over a hundred over the years and the only one that was aimed at the under 18s was for Historic Royal Palaces to advertise an exhibit at the Tower of London.
  2. As in any industry - there are some dodgy dealers in adverting.
  3. In my opinion - Koko Digital aren't one of them. They're a small company who produce fun games on tight budgets - largely for the love of it. They were clearly a bit naive in the meeting, I really hope this doesn't hurt their business.
  4. It might be worth pointing out that most of the games they actually featured (for example the ones for Coca Cola) are also a bit crap and actually haven't been particularly successful.

Interesting though... they key thing that came out of the show for me is that the academics confirm that Advergames work - not specifically for children, but generally. During the show Dr Jennifer Harris from Yale stated:

"Advertising really is most effective when people don't think of it as advertising - When they're thinking of a game they're playing then they won't activate their defences and the advertising will be more effective."

This is a very good point and, whilst I'd agree that in the context of marketing to kids this is a concern, it's good to know that there's some point to all this! I think it's also worth pointing out that Advergames are not the only medium to exploit this phenomena - ever wondered why Google is so rich? Because their advertising works in an almost identical way - by placing advertising around your search results in a similar style your defences are lower and you're more likely to click on the advertiser's links.

Anyway - thanks Channel 4 and Yale for telling us that Advergames work and - for the record - although we've definitely never made an Advergame aimed at the under 12s we did once make one for Roy Chubby Brown and, frankly, that is a shame that I will carry to the grave.