Neon Play's Oli Christie on starting a mobile games studio: the lessons and lesions

Kicking those first ideas around

Neon Play's Oli Christie on starting a mobile games studio: the lessons and lesions
Oli Christie, CEO of Neon Play, has won 25 industry awards for his 200+ viral flash games during his time at InboxDMG, working for clients ranging from Gillette, Panasonic, Pringles and Jeep.

Here he tells us what he's learned from setting up a new mobile studio and how he went from zero to 15 million downloads in 10 months with hits such as
Paper Glider and Flick Football.

How the hell do you start a mobile games studio?

That was the question I asked myself back in June 2010. I'd made lots of internet Flash games, but I'd never made a mobile game, let alone played many except Snake and Backgammon on my old Nokia. The learning curve would be gargantuan.

The initial problem (and it was a big one) was that I was flying solo.

I had no partner, no technical skills and no staff. Therefore I couldn't actually make a game. But I set about forming the foundations of my new games studio by coming up with a name.

The important bit

When you start any company, once you have a actual name, it feels like you can move forward, so I brainstormed all sorts of names. One word that came to mind very early on was the word NEON - it just felt like a good name, so it was then a matter of finding a complementary word that would make it sound like a professional, but fun games studio.

The other vital thing is whether the URL is available and it's incredible how few domains are. But eventually I struck upon Neon Play and snapped up the .com and .co.uk addresses in double-quick time.

I also very quickly nabbed the Facebook and Twitter pages for /neonplay so I had all my bases covered, even though I had nothing to actually put on them.

Might make some games in a bitI contacted an old colleague of mine who set about designing a logo, brand, business cards and a website.

This is a fun process that I love and once we had a logo and a website (www.neonplay.com), I really felt that I was on my way... except for the fact that I needed someone to make my first game - I needed a developer, and super fast.

So I posted a job ad on a recruitment site saying; "Opportunity of a lifetime! iPhone games developer needed". I might have been over-egging the opportunity a tad, but knew I had to make it stand out on the job boards.

And as luck would have it, a top man called Mark applied for the job (in fact, he was the only person who applied for the job).

He had just returned from the States where he was a big cheese at Midway Games, plus he'd spent a few years at Acclaim in Cheltenham, so he had some superlative experience in the console world with games like Crazy Taxi and TNA Wrestling. And we met for a pint and got on extremely well.

Like me, Mark had also never made a mobile game, but Mark's big console game experience and my small Flash game experience would hopefully combine to create some tip-top mobile games.

Almost making games now So we sat down and discussed what our first game would be. And with the World Cup approaching and soccer games having long term potential, we thought that our first iPhone game should be a football game.

And we chose a game where you had to bend the ball around the wall to score, in a kind of Bend it like Beckham fashion. We called it Flick Football (iTunes link).

So Mark and I sat at my kitchen table and tried to flesh out the game. We wireframed as we went along (not the best idea), used a freelance artist to design the game interface, and a freelance 3D guy who was created the stadium and the animated players.

On top of that, we had another freelance audio man on the job, and I got a friend of mine to do the commentary. It was certainly tricky to manage all these people remotely and made it clear to me that I would want to get a team all working in the same studio - it's easier and it's more fun.

They made a game!
Flick Football launched, in partnership with games portal Miniclip.com, and it became a super-smash during the World Cup, peaking at number 8 in the UK charts.

Soon after the 59p paid game launched, we unleashed Flick Football Lite (iTunes link) as a free, try before you buy version and then launched a universal iPhone/iPad version as well, which incredibly went on to become the number 2 downloaded iPad app of 2010.

It was a great start, the revenue started to roll in much earlier than we could have dreamed of and it enabled us to take on an artist and another developer straight away.

Cashflow certainly was king for a young, privately funded studio. We'd learnt a lot already, but were still complete novices, taking our first steps into a huge, overcrowded marketplace. But we had lift off!
Next month: Learn from our mistakes... 10 top tips to create a successful casual mobile game.

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