Project M is a mobile game studio based in East London’s Tech City area, operating in both the mobile gaming sector and the investment sector.
Before starting the company, CEO Sean McNicholas was working in corporate finance, but once he’d made the decision to seek out new, fast-moving sectors to work in, he set his sights on the mobile gaming sector.
Prompted by the global success of games such as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans, he began researching his market in more depth. ‘The sheer number of people playing these games globally was phenomenal, and of course fascinating from a business perspective,’ he says.
‘With the ongoing growth and improvement of mobile devices, connectivity, game graphics and gameplay experience I knew this market would grow even faster as the industry continues to evolve.’
Mindful that whatever type of game he created would have to be a market disruptor if it was to have any chance of breaking into this market, McNicholas looked at how much time and money people spent playing these games and began to develop a new gaming concept in which users would receive real-world awards on the back of a virtual experience that players would appreciate – the answer being gold.
‘In the case of our first game, Dig That Gold, it was real 24k gold bars. I also realised when creating Dig That Gold that we needed to embrace the role that social media and virality play as key drivers to user acquisition; these now form central parts of our strategy to get more people downloading and playing the app.’
Setting up a franchise model
With the concept of the game formed, McNicholas also set about creating a unique franchise model to allow like-minded global investors and entrepreneurs to be part of the game platform by owning a level in the game, which they could then share with their network via social media.
‘Investors benefit from being part of the bigger project; collectively the game platform should generate a large and fast user-base, which in turn should generate revenues faster.
Once I knew all of this could work, I started to work on creating a new and exciting business.’
McNicholas feels he brings to the company strategic business experience and organisational skills. However, not being from a gaming background means it was important for him to be surrounded by an expert development team, which he recruited internally.
From an original team of four, the company now has 18 experienced members in its development team, headed up by lead developer Mike Barrow, who has been developing games for over 15 years and has worked for game companies such as EA and Activision.
The early days of the business consisted mainly of aspirational planning. ‘I spent a long time establishing exactly what it was that I was trying to achieve and how to execute it. The vision was always big – it had to be to become a global success. I had to think about the game, its theme and story; I had to think about how to develop the investment model, whilst also working on the wider challenge of creating the corporate structure and legal framework,’ McNicholas says.
New to the mobile gaming sector, it was very much a ‘going back to school’ experience for the CEO. ‘I read a lot of books, watched loads of videos and attended many seminars and conferences. There was no room for lazy assumptions or gaps in my knowledge – I had to understand the games sector inside out and, most importantly, understand agile development and team expansion as this is how the business would grow and develop.’
Originally, the company had a small office at the Shoreditch Tech Hub and the team would meet up once a week, the rest of the time working remotely. ‘Looking back that was a big mistake,’ McNicholas says. ‘For such a large project and such a small team, it was important that we were all immersed in the business, in one room, every day. You could then tune in to every conversation to ensure everyone was working in sync. That is why as the team grew I ensured we all worked together in the studio every day.’
Advice on navigating the mobile gaming sector
‘As clichéd as it might sound, one of the main pieces of advice I would offer to anyone at the start up in the mobile gaming sector is that you have to be prepared for a long and arduous journey,’ McNicholas says. ‘Be prepared for long hours, no holidays and no money until you have developed a product that is monetising successfully.
‘But beyond having the right mind-set, it is extremely important that any entrepreneur learns as much as they can about the sector – it’s not just about building a new mobile game, it’s about building a team and a business model that will allow your company to grow.’
Newcomers are advised to go to as many conferences, expos and seminars as possible so they can learn about the industry and develop a network of contacts.
‘And throughout the whole process, you have to be tough, resilient and, most of all, you have to believe in your product. You have to live and breathe it. People will know from your energy and enthusiasm how much you really love and believe in your product and this passion will ultimately be reflected in its success or failure.’