Small Business: Game developers

Tim Nixon, Director, Runaway mobile games.
Tim Nixon, Director, Runaway mobile games.

Tim Nixon, Director, Runaway mobile games based in Dunedin.

What niche have you gone for with your company?

Runaway create games inspired by nature for mobile devices. Our latest game, Flutter, lets players care for a section of rainforest and raise butterflies through their incredible lifecycle. The game has been a great success for us and our partner publisher in San Francisco so it has now become the start of a series of these games based on real-world eco-systems.

What is your background?

I studied at the University of Otago majoring in Design, with some Computer Science thrown in there and a Masters in Entrepreneurship. Most of my game-specific learning came from my own hobbyist design, development, and research. I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to attend the Game Developers Conference in the USA towards the end of my studies, and that jump-started my connection with the international industry.

What success have you had so far?

Runaway has developed games in partnership with National Geographic, the World Wildlife Fund, and most recently the global mega-publisher DeNA. Our latest game, Flutter, has been our greatest success by a significant margin. It was featured by Apple on their App Store and “monetised” really well. We’re very proud of the community we’ve built and the game continues to evolve with new content every week.

What are your plans in the next year?

We’ll continue to update Flutter with new species and features, but have also begun work on our follow-up title, so we’re expanding. We have interns joining us over the summer, we are hiring more engineers, prototyping new mechanics, and working towards a release of our next product in the third quarter of 2014. It’s going to be an exciting year for us.

How international are your games?

The vast majority of our players are from the USA and Europe. Our publisher and customer support is based in San Francisco, with their head office in Tokyo. We’re owned by a media group based in Sydney and have a full time artist based in Sweden. So we’re all over the place! With that said, most of the work is done right here in Dunedin, New Zealand.

How do you protect the IP of your games?

We have the standard trademarks and IP agreements in place with our publisher, but at the end of the day you can’t actually protect game design as IP, so you need to make sure that the quality you’re delivering, the brand you’re developing, and the community you support are all inimitable. For a small studio like us, that means staying true to our niche, and being the best in the world at it.

Would you like any more support than you are getting from the industry
or the Government?

We have just been awarded an RD grant from Callaghan Innovation which we’re incredibly appreciative of and NZTE is also starting to pay more attention to our potential as an industry, so we think things are moving in the right direction. With that said, it would be nice to see more recognition for games as a culturally significant medium and more support for game projects through the government’s creative agencies.

Do you meet up with other game developers from time to time?

Absolutely, the local NZ developer community is really closely knit, staying in contact through the New Zealand Game Developers Association, which I sit on the board of, and our annual New Zealand Game Developers Conference held at AUT. We’re also regularly in the USA at conferences such as GDC and Casual Connect to meet with publishers, promotional partners, and fellow international developers.

Why do you enjoy developing games?

It’s what I’ve wanted to do from a very young age so I feel very lucky to be doing what I love for a job. Our team is fantastic and that’s really the most important thing, that you’re with a group of people that are on the same level and working in unison towards a shared vision. It’s hard work, but I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our studio and the NZ industry as a whole.

We are entering a new golden age of gaming where we are seeing an enormous amount of creativity, amazing new tools, and platforms for independent promotion and discovery of great games. There has never been a better time to get into the industry, so if you’re passionate about it and ready to work hard, there is huge opportunity.

Next week: Now is a key time for every retailer out there as well organised types are shopping for family overseas and at home. A recent news report said that retailers weren’t going to be hiring more staff in the run up to Christmas, they would just be working harder. Is this true in your case? How do small businesses motivate and manage staff at this crucial time of year?