The collapse of Realtime Worlds may have cast doubt over the UK’s ability to build online games businesses – but British firms can be pioneers on the digital frontier, says London studio Mind Candy.
And it’s got the stats to prove it.
The studio is responsible for kids’ virtual pet and online game Moshi Monsters, one of the fastest growing sites in the world. In just two years it has secured over 27m users from ages four up to 14 in the UK, USA and Australia/NZ.
Mind Candy’s in-house research claims 1 in 3 UK children have designed their own character in-game.
The stats came as the firm revealed an aggressive plan to further boost its business by co-producing books and other merchandise based on the Moshi brand, and self-funding a move into publishing games for Nintendo DS and 3DS.
Moshi will become “one of the biggest entertainment properties in the world” said CEO Michael Acton Smith – while at the same time changing perceptions about the entrepreneurial power of British game studios.
“We’re taking the fight to Silicon Valley,” he told Develop, adding that by moving into its own books and console games the firm is “disrupting a lot of industries – games, toys, licensing”.
Smith specifically wants to prove Moshi Monsters’ young audience that games are still an exciting business, and inspire the potential games businessmen of tomorrow.
“I have spoken at a number of schools since Moshi became so popular and think there is a real case to be made about educating children about being an entrepreneur, and having a career doing something you are passionate about, like games.
“We need more role models for the businessmen of tomorrow – at the moment we have Richard Branson and a few Dragons. That’s not good enough.”
Smith also said that the UK needs to develop a healthier attitude to the ups and downs of business – and start courting a more proactive investment community like the one found in the US.
“There’s a different culture in the US,” he said. “There are different circumstances that unfortunately mean over here the new IP, the good new IP, doesn’t always bubble to the surface.
“And also in the UK the failure culture is so different. In America if you form a company, and it fails or its product doesn’t work, then you move on, without shame.
“Failure is no big deal. The American Dream is to try and try again to achieve your goal. In the UK, doing that is almost taboo.”
It’s a telling remark when the UK development scene is still reeling from the collapse of Dundee outfit Realtime Worlds, which burnt through over $100m investor cash in the road to build its ambitious MMO APB, went into administration less than two months after the much-delayed game finally made it onto the market.
Smith said that such nightmare stories don’t help investor confidence – and were a warning for every developer out there.
“Hindsight is a great thing when commenting on something as sad as the Realtime Worlds situation – but I think it’s clear that overspending and a delay in release is the pitfall for online games. You do yourself lots of favours if you release quick and early and refine along the way. Investors like that these days.”
Smith is all too familiar with investor reluctance. Mind Candy built the Moshi empire with just the $1m left over from the firm’s over-ambitious Perplex City alternate-reality game – and next to no support from the traditional games industry.
“For us if we had no cash left after Perplex City we would have been laughed away for good,” said Smith.
“We have felt a bit unloved by the games industry – but in the last 12 months something has changed, and I think it’s clear the industry is approaching online much more head on and openly.
“But I guess they’re going to do that when a company like Zynga can appear out of nowhere and make $100m dollars very quickly.”