Saturday, 16 August 2014

Saturday, 16 August 2014

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.


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