Feature

Capital from the capital: UK investment is centred around London, says Andrew Smith

Capital from the capital: UK investment is centred around London, says Andrew Smith

This is the fourth part of our week long look at the London games development scene.

Like Curve Studios, AppyNation pitches itself as a London games publisher with a difference, working to bring independent games to as large an audience as possible without looking to take control of IP.

Unlike Curve, however, this Farringdon based firm has been solely focused on mobile platforms and it is funded by the very developers it serves.

AppyNation is a consortium started by Andy Payne, who managed to get independent studios to put money into a collective pot, which was then matched by Nesta, a British innovation charity.

We spoke to Andrew Smith, the man who, at the time of our interview, was responsible for user acquisition at AppyNation. You might also know him for his work as one-man indie outfit Spilt Milk Studios.

We wanted to find out how the consortium works in the interests of members and non-members, as well as where it fits in the London gaming scene.

"Three years ago we recognised a need amongst developers in the UK that the existing publishing model wasn't doing anyone any favours," says Smith.

"This was when the mobile market was opening up and becoming more viable and when digital games on console and PC were becoming more viable as well. There was an opportunity to create a company to act as a publisher in the interests of developers.

"We concentrated on publishing the games of the member companies at first but AppyNation's remit is now broader than that. We work with a lot of companies now that aren't invested in AppyNation but have a good product that we want to make a success."

No pitches

The publisher has processes in place for its members, but there isn't a formal pitching process for their new game ideas, with AppyNation preferring an relaxed relationship for passing on development feedback and iterating on the products.

"We do the QA, translation, publishing and so on. Basically anything that the developer doesn't want to do because they want to spend all of their time working with their expertise. The same is true for anyone from outside the consortium," Smith tells us.

"We have to be interested in the game though, that's the big thing. We don't make purely commercial choices. We then work with them to make the game as good as it can be and give it a chance in the market."

We don't take IP, that's the developer's right. It's old fashioned to take IP from developers.
Andrew Smith

Allowing the developer to keep hold of its IP is a key part of AppyNation's methodology, just as it is for Curve Studios whom we spoke to yesterday. Smith even claims that owning IP or funding projects upfront would give the publisher power and responsibility that it doesn't want.

"We don't take IP, that's the developer's right. It's old fashioned to take IP from developers," Smith argues. "We haven't funded any projects either. Adding that monetary side to it would allow us to force certain decisions and we don't want to be in that position when the whole point of us choosing a game is because we like it as it is."

But what happens if AppyNation decides to pass on one of its members' games? What if they don't want to be involved with a particular project?

With the casual nature of these particular publisher/ developer relationships neither side is committed to working together on every project. AppyNation hasn't yet turned down the chance to publish one of its members' games, but it is a hypothetical possibility that Smith and co. need to be prepared for.

"I don't know what would happen, but we would have no issue with them self-publishing or finding someone else.," Smith claims. "We're not the only publisher that works this way thankfully, but we were one of the first. People are realising that developers are the ones with the power and without them the whole system falls down. It's important that our members find a partner, but the partner doesn't always have to be us."

Power of PR

If AppyNation did pass on your game you'd be missing out on one of its key services, PR and marketing - the part of the publisher's business that Smith was at the time responsible for.

His experiences developing and publishing his own projects as Spilt Milk Studios greatly informed his work at AppyNation.

"There is an obvious skills gap between what we do and what a developer does. A developer creates interesting game and the publisher markets them. It's not surprising that a lot of indie developers struggle when they try to do everything by themselves," Smith argues.

"I also work as my own indie developer, Spilt Milk Studios. After two and a half years of trying to do everything myself I realised that there is a reason that publishers exist. There's a department for marketing, QA and so on. These jobs are important, valid and take time. Without telling people about your game it won't sell and you need it to sell so that you can make another one.

"If you look at the indie scene there are stand-out companies and individuals who recognise these differences. They accept that they can't do everything, or that they aren't good enough at those things, but they are the exception rather than the rule."

AppyNation helped bring Transport Tycoon to mobile

Like the other companies we have spoken too, Smith and AppyNation are keen to point out the many qualitative benefits of making games in London, in spite of the huge expenses associated with living and working in the UK's capital.

With organisations like UKIE on their doorstep, London's games business are well placed to come together to create large benefits for everyone making games in the city. These, Smith argues, are the kinds of benefits that you can't record in a spreadsheet.

"Wherever you find a community there are all of these side benefits that you can't put on the balance sheet," says Smith.

"You could get shared office space though to get a cheaper work environment. There are so many devs going through the same thing as you and events like London Indies every month. As humans we tend to build like-minded communities and there are so many benefits to that beyond monetary ones. That said, if you're worrying about funding and investment there's plenty of that here too. Investment in the UK is centred around London."

Moving times

Smith himself has a personal story to share about the enormous sacrifices he made to be able to move to London to be a part of the games community there. If his story seems scary, then moving to London to make games might not be for you.

"I moved to London 18 months ago and scrimped and saved and literally lived and worked in a shed for a while to afford it. Once I moved, the proximity and regularity of contact with these people has created opportunities. It can be as simple as not having to leave a social drinks thing after an event early because you don't have to get a train out of the city.

"By virtue of being around and being seen doing good work, things tend to fall out of the woodwork."

The proximity and regularity of contact with people in London has created opportunities.
Andrew Smith

So what's next for AppyNation? The publisher is beginning to publish on more digital platforms outside of mobile gaming and Smith admits that more and more developers are struggling to crack the mobile app stores. He also claims that developers from the world of PC and console find this even tougher.

So with AppyNation expanding its horizons, how do you find success on mobile in 2014?

"I would advise that people go with a publisher because the discovery issues are huge. That said, look at Flappy Bird. You can't get more independent than that. You can't get more indie that one guy from a country with no real history of games who hits the top of the charts. That's a bit misleading though because he's the exception that proves the rule," Smith argues.

"A lot of developers struggle on mobile. As a platform it's very different from any other. Not just in terms of tech, but audience expectations as well. I find myself underestimating how simple a successful game can be on mobile. The way that a consumer perceives the value of a game in their pocket is a whole different mindset.

"A lot of the people that struggle come from PC or console developers who think this is a big opportunity. It is, but costly mistakes are made from a lack of experience of the market. That's where AppyNation comes in!

"We've spent three and a half years gathering that knowledge, so that we can massage the risks. There is a lot of room for success, not just at the top of the charts."

One developer that has found success on a variety of platforms, without necessarily breaking into the major charts is Honeyslug, the crazy minds behind Frobisher Says for PlayStation Vita. Come back to PocketGamer.biz tomorrow for our final interview of London week, with Honeyslug's CEO and Designer, Ricky Haggett.

Andrew Smith has left AppyNation since this interview was carried out.

If you're interested in London and the wider UK development scene, make sure to sign up for Pocket Gamer Connects, hitting London 13-14 January 2015.

Joe just loves to go fast. That's both a reflection of his status as a self-proclaimed 'racing game expert', and the fact he spends his days frantically freelancing for a bevy of games sites. For PocketGamer.biz, however, Joe brings his insight from previous job as a community manager at iOS developer Kwalee. He also has a crippling addiction to Skittles, but the sugar gets him through the day.

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