Entrepreneur Q&A: Joshua Akorah, creator of My Valentine Watch

Joshua Akorah is a 22 year old solo game developer who is in the throes of launching his own creation, The Valentine Watch.

He’s also one of 24 young innovators who have won an Ideas Mean Business award from The Prince’s Trust and Innovate UK.

Here, he tells us more about his work and how he hopes to change the gaming industry.

Tell us more about your business

My business is working on a video game and the innovative aspect of it is that, in most stories in film and literature, you have a beginning, middle and end. The author writes exactly what happens and when it happens.

What I’m trying to do with this game is to put events together in a non-linear way, depending on the way the players have reacted. By combining these, you get a unique story for each player.

You play as a sheriff in a town in rural England. It’s set back in the industrial area where the police force wasn’t a real thing so it was up to these sheriffs to look after the town.

I want the choices of the player to matter and no matter what choice you make, it’s a balancing act of keeping everyone happy while staying within the law.

It’s launching 7th July at midday and we’ll have a demo.

The idea came about when I was in my first year of university, which was five years ago now. I just wanted a place where I could learn to programme alongside coding, so I was doing it as a hobby. I was just programming away at this game and when I graduated last summer, I thought that this could be a good idea that I could sell.

What role have games played in your life?

I feel like when I was in high school, I used to play games all the time. I’d go to school, come home, play games, have dinner, play more games and then bed and repeat, day after day. And then when I reached university, games felt increasingly immature to me. It was just killing people for points, essentially.

So, I’m hoping that with this game from a narrative perspective, it’ll connect with people like me who want interesting narrative.

I’m looking for stories about people, not just mindless violence.

I’d also like to show the gaming industry that games with these stories are possible alongside good gameplay.

What kind of support have you had?

I was very keen to create the game by myself. One of my influences is Toby Fox who did Undertale which was created by one person and was about the narrative. It performed really well.

So I am doing everything – graphics, art, script. If you want to be a solo game developer, you’ve got to be good within all of these fields.

I enjoy every aspect of the game developing process. I wanted to do it myself to give me the control. The one element that Innovate UK really did help with is the soundtrack. I’ll hopefully use the funding from this award to pay for a composer.

Budgeting-wise, there hasn’t been much outside support. I got £750 from The Prince’s Trust before which I’m using for maintenance stuff like web domain, storage, sound effects. It’s been very bare bones.

When I left university, especially with games, I didn’t feel like it was a real business. I felt that people wouldn’t treat it as seriously as going into something like banking.

Right off the bat, I assumed there wouldn’t be any support for me and for the first seven months after graduation I was just in my room programming. I felt quite isolated. I’d say that in reality businesses are quite friendly but there’s a perception that they aren’t and that completely dissuaded me from even trying to get finance.

If there’s someone in a similar situation, I think they just need to keep at it to realise that, if you believe in a product, there will be someone else who believes in that product, no matter how wild or crazy it is. Don’t be like me and stay in your room for seven months.

Finding Innovate UK  happened by complete chance. My mum suggested going to The Prince’s Trust but I thought they wouldn’t give money to some random solo game developer.

When I got accepted and got a mentor, I realised there could be other places that would give me support like that.

What barriers are there preventing young people from becoming entrepreneurs?

Can I use a gaming example?

Within the industry it’s all about America and Japan. There’s nobody that does anything small nearby so here it feels like there isn’t much opportunity to make games yourself. But if you actually look for these things, you will find them.

When I was university doing computer science there was a culture of just thinking that you could get into a high-paying job with some company afterwards and that was you set for life. If you want to do something for yourself like run your own business, you just need to try it.

Find the people that can support you, they’re around so try and seek them out and build yourself a small community. Everything will be fine.

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