Meet Wonky Woo, from senior dev staff to family man with his eye on the app market

Start-Up Spotlight: Wonky Woo Games

A lot of harsh truths come from learning to run a business from scratch.

It’s something that Darren Wood has been facing for just under a year, devoting his energies to making a living from Wonky Woo Games. Wood has worked with some of the top talent in the West Midlands, such as Psygonsis.

Anxious to escape the rat race of big budget development so he can focus on his family, Wood is confident the app market is his best chance of using his talents while working from home. He told us how he’s getting on so far.

How did you start your company?
I formally set up Wonky Woo Games in February 2010 but I didn’t started working full-time on any games until August 2010. After 15 years in the computer games industry I decided I needed a new challenge and felt that now was the right time to work for myself. I also have an 18-month-old son who I wanted to spend more time with.

I put an advert in with my former university looking for artists willing to work initially on apps for children with a 50/50 split of profits, luckily a great 2D artist got in touch called Lucy Kyriakidou who is the artist for the What am I… series. But I am always looking to collaborate with other artists and programmers.

How many people work at your company?
At any given moment in the development of a game about three of us are working on something; myself, full-time as programmer and developer, and Lucy and my brother-in-law Ben, both artists. We all juggle our other commitments, be that contract or full-time work around the app project plans. Then there’s my wife who helps with the website and marketing and other friends and their kids who have done the voiceover work or beta testing. So it’s a good mix of people with lot of different skills – a modern cottage industry.

What’s your company culture like?
It’s an email culture. Lucy, the artist lives in Middlesbrough, I live on the Wirral. We design, discuss ideas, and produce work all through email. We have produced two apps and never met. It’s very open, anyone can suggest ideas and we work them through to see if they are feasible and if they fit in with our schedules.

Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
The name ‘Wonky Woo’ comes from the fact that my wife calls me ‘Woo’; a few years ago I used to make my own wine which was quite potent and I called it ‘Wonky Woo Wines’, so the name ‘Wonky Woo’ kind of stuck.

What could you, and/or your team members, not do without on a daily basis?
For me, it’s a cup of tea.

Why did you decide to enter the casual gaming market?
I was ready for a new challenge – utilising my existing skills and developing some new ones. Plus I wanted to spend more quality time with my son and this has spurred me on. The arrival of iPad has been a great opportunity for the quick and simple development of apps. I was also fed up of huge games in which the player sits down for hours. I don’t have the time or inclination to play games for that long; 20 minutes is max for me. It has to be pick up and play and the iPhone and iPad are really neat at capturing this new spirit of gaming.

What games/tools/services have you made since forming, and how have they been received?
What Am I Pets and What Am I Christmas Edition. The two games have been well received with some constructive feedback from users, but I’m finding the marketing difficult and time consuming.

What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
We are working on the new apps in the What Am I… series, Farm and Zoo. They are both about 60 per cent complete. We are also developing a retro Lunar Lander-style game that is just entering the production phase after prototyping. And we have a racing game slowly burning in the background, as the majority of my professional work in the games industry involved AI and vehicle dynamics for this genre of game.

We are always working on new ideas with a view to future projects and I keep a log of things we would like to try. You never know when an idea, or some inspiration, will turn into something.

What are your aspirations for the company?
Sell more games! We would like to grow the company, be that through collaboration with others or production of new, exciting and stimulating games. It would also be nice to be able to pay everyone involved a salary.

Who do you admire in the games industry and/or beyond?
I’ve worked with some very talented people in the games industry over the years. I don’t think the game teams get enough credit. I’ve also been lucky to work for companies such as Psygnosis and Bizarre Creations which have similar foundations to Wonky Woo Games so you have to admire the founders of these companies. They have been there and done it.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your company?
We are always interested in collaborating and working with other developers or IPs. If anyone is interested, then please get in touch.

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