Neon Play CEO Oli Christie on the challenges of indie life on the App Store

And has the studio become a 'super indie'?

Neon Play CEO Oli Christie on the challenges of indie life on the App Store

Oli Christie is CEO of UK developer Neon Play, and also serves on the board of UK trade association TIGA.

Following PocketGamer.biz deputy editor Keith Andrew's piece about his love and passion for indie mobile game studios, I congratulated him on the article.

I said that Neon Play loved being an indie studio and two years since launching onto the App Store, we still had that similar love and passion for what we do.

Keith replied that we were no longer an "indie" but a "super indie" - indeed a "sindie" - which was interesting and a bit weird to be honest. Flattering I suppose. And he asked if I could scribe a few words.

What makes an indie?

Personally, I feel Neon Play is very much still an indie.

We're 100 percent privately funded; we have no VCs breathing down our neck; no highly paid advisors offering advice from the West Coast; we're not very big (15 people); we have no advertising budget to promote our games and acquire users at silly inflated prices; and we battle every day on the App Store like everyone else.

I'm guessing Keith's comment that we're a "super indie" was because we've had a fair amount of downloads (approaching 40 million) and have luckily featured in Pocket Gamer's Top 50 for the last two years.

Neon Play's 2011 hit Paper Glider Crazy Copter 3D

Our PR is fairly strong, we have won some nice business awards and there is fairly good recognition of some of our success stories in the industry, like becoming Apple's 10 billionth app download with Paper Glider.

But we know we've got a long way to go. A long way.

Against all odds

But I think part of being an indie is the ongoing struggle to survive against the odds. And the App Store in the last year has got increasingly tough as the big boys come in and try and use financial muscle to buy success and chart position.

Some of the stories I hear about the big studios chucking crazy money at user acquisition when they know they'll be losing $7 per user just beggars belief, and it shows what an uneven playing field the App Store is.

And as the market has gone freemium, with small resources and a lack of a team of analysts and market researchers, I think a lot of indies have struggled to make the transition and be as profitable.

When it was more about paid games, I think it was easier to make money, especially as user acquisition wasn't so important.

Top NADs

At Neon Play we've tried our best to be smart with the way we try and get players to download our games.

Social media has been vital - and it's free - and we now have 200,000 Facebook fans and Twitter followers. This is a great way to engage with our players and to launch new games.

On top of that, our cross-promotion network was something we built into our first game Flick Football back in 2010 (we call it NADS - Neonplay Ads) and it's something we now find vitally important. I feel we were a step ahead at the time as we realised the importance of cross promotion from the word go.

We now use Chartboost to cross-promote our games and it's also a good revenue stream when you're not pushing your own games. We also work with other global developers to cross-promote each other games and that feels part of the fun of this industry because it's collaborative.

Recent iOS hit Traffic Panic London

Having been voted onto the board of TIGA, I've been trying to put ideas forward that will help UK indies use the power of cross promotion as it's the most cost-effective way of getting traffic. We'll have some news soon on this I hope.

When you tell people you make iPhone games for a living, everyone says "how cool is that" and they're right. We are the luckiest people in the world to work in such a fun industry and there is no better job that making games for a living.

If you don't enjoy that, then there's not much hope really.

Pride in the name of love

And being small and a startup is the best fun ever.

You can be flexible, you know everyone's name, you can do what you want, change your mind, answer to no one and truly revel in any success that comes your way and know that it was purely the small team that made the game that has created this success. There's no better feeling in the world.

I remember when we got our first number one in the App Store (free charts), it was a truly euphoric moment and I opened up the window in our shitty little room in Cirencester and just shouted down the street, "WE'RE NUMBER ONE IN THE APP STORE!". And I screamed it twice.

I didn't care if I sounded a dick - because I did - I was just so proud of what our team of four people had done. That's what being indie is about I think.

And yes, we might be a little bit bigger now and we've got a big grown-up studio with lots of space and a pool table and the other cliches like bean bags, an Xbox and a darts board, but we're still independent, we still find it hard to get success and we still love those moments when we do beat the big boys.

Getting a number one is now virtually impossible but a few weeks ago we had two games in the UK top 10 - Traffic Panic London and Carpark Carnage - and it was a champagne moment, literally.

It's still David vs Goliath and occasionally the little fella can topple the big guys. And that is why we do this and long may it last.

You can find out more about Neon Play and Oli Christie by following him on Twitter.

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