Start-Up Spotlight: Neon Play

Start-Up Spotlight: Neon Play
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

February 24th 2011 at 3:00PM

Meet a start-up that's causing quite a stir with their mobile apps

Still under a year old, Neon Play has had a remarkably successful time so far.

Their debut title, Flick Football, has had over million downloads and they’ve recently gained a lot of publicity by publishing the 10 billionth app on the App Store.

Founder and CEO Oli Christie shares the story of this neon valley start-up.

How did you start your company?
Having been a digital creative director for 11 years making over 200 viral games for big global clients, I’d always had a feeling I might do something myself one day. And when the iPhone emerged as a new and unique gaming platform, it was time to make the plunge last summer and do what I love - make fun, simple and addictive casual games. I’ve funded the company privately and it was very hard work starting off by myself with zero members of staff (after a couple of false starts) - a rollercoaster journey if ever there was one. But eventually I found the perfect technical director partner and we hit the road running with our first app Flick Football and it’s been mostly downhill from there, with a few twists and turns.

How many people work at your company?
Since launching in June 2010, we currently have 10 full time staff (not including finance and PR who are temporary). We’re also on the lookout for a project manager and a 2D artist/interface designer. Plus when good developers come along (iPhone, Android, etc), if we like them, we’re happy to get them on board. So we’re growing quickly, but organically, but we’re in profit already.

What’s your company culture like?
Our culture is probably the most important element to Neon Play and one of the reasons we hope people get attracted to the studio. We have a whole section on it on the website. We also have a list of 10 reasons to join Neon Play and among those is that we have a posh bog roll guarantee; you get your birthday as a free day off; I buy everyone beer on Fridays; and everyone gets given £100 to buy the company a joining present. We know we’re small and we’re in Cirencester, so we need to battle hard to attract the right people with the right values, so our culture is vital (but genuine).

Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
We recently got extremely lucky when our app Paper Glider became the 10 billionth iPhone app downloaded. The countdown was heavily promoted on the Apple site, so when I got a call from Apple in Cupertino one Saturday night saying they had some “good news,” I could never have expected it to be that Paper Glider was the chosen one.

As a result of the 10 billionth app, we’ve had a lot of global PR, publicity, coverage and it’s really helped raise our profile and increase app sales. We’ve had interviews with TV stations, Silicon Valley newspapers, radio stations, endless journalists and it’s been a real door opener with some senior people in big companies. A very, very lucky moment!

What could you, and/or your team members, not do without on a daily basis?
PositionApp is a fantastic app for developers who have apps in the charts. It’s great to be able to track your apps globally and you can become quite obsessive about your chart position and the rise and fall of your apps around the world. We also use MajicRank which is a live chart tracking system. When your app is doing well (and four of our apps have topped the charts with over one million downloads each), it’s a lot of fun and rather compulsive.

We also use our Little Book of Neon Play app because it’s vital to see how your app name will look and fit under the icon - and the free app has the tool to do this.

Why did you decide to enter the casual gaming market?
I had spent the last 11 years as a digital creative director making over 200 viral Flash and Shockwave games for big global brands like Gillette, Panasonic and Pringles. But when the iPhone came along, I could see the potential to take my passion and experience for casual games onto the iPhone. It felt like a natural step and the time was right in my career.

So I resigned in May 2010, found a technical director who became my partner and we started off by launching our first app Flick Football in June 2010, which went on to become a Top 10 paid game and a Top 200 selling app of all time. Plus, it’s fun doing casual games and we have a high turnover of games - we try to launch on average a game per developer every month or so. This keeps things fresh and the creativity high.

What games/tools/services have you made since forming, and how have they been received?
Neon Play is focussed on making games and entertainment apps. Our first game (as mentioned) was Flick Football and it went straight into the UK top 10 paid apps, which was highly exciting and allowed us to grow quicker than we imagined - the paid and free versions have totalled over 1.3 million downloads.

Our next app was Golf Putt Pro, which started off paid, but is now free. It’s had over 1.5 million downloads. Hotshot Pool was next and it’s got 120 levels of very addictive puzzle/arcade pool action. That’s had over one million downloads as well. And recently we’ve launched Talking Baby, who is very rude and abusive and he’s been a top 60 UK app.

We’ve also released apps for celebrities like Armstrong & Miller, Al Murray and Dom Joly and we’re looking to work with more celebs going forward. In total, we’ve had over eight million downloads now, so things are looking positive.

What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
We are working on three apps as we speak and all of them are near to completion. We have a follow up to our first hit Flick Football. It’s going to be called Flick Football Super Save. You are a goalkeeper and you need to save the balls coming towards you. It has four game modes, Game Center plugged in and it’s very addictive and we really hope we can match the success of Flick Football.

We also have a free app called Royal Wedding coming out, which is not a game, but a words and pictures app with everything you need to know about the Royal Wedding, including over 100 photos from one of the top royal photographers as an in-app purchase.

And another game that has just launched is Traffic Panic, which is simple and highly addictive. All you are doing is turning traffic lights red or green in order to control the traffic, avoid crashes and prevent traffic jams. It’s free with ads and in-app purchase of coins, which we’re testing to see the revenue potential.

What are your aspirations for the company?
We’re aiming to be the best independent mobile games developer in the UK who are respected by our peers, the industry and most importantly by consumers who love our games and see the Neon Play logo as a hallmark of quality. If one day, we get approached by one of the big games companies, then that will be great, but it’s not all about the money, it’s about the culture, the product, the enjoyment and having a life.

We’re very ambitious, are already in profit after seven months, and have some extremely exciting financial projections, but we’re also having a real laugh along the way. We’ve had over eight million downloads in eight months and we hope to continue in that vein by creating more fun and addictive casual games.

Who do you admire in the games industry and/or beyond?
I’m a big fan of Mills from ustwo. Before I started Neon Play, he was about the only person who was genuinely helpful, open and excited about what we were planning to do. He’s become a great friend of Neon Play and his honesty about what works, his failures and successes is a breath of fresh air. We often compare war stories about our constant battles with the App Store and idiotic reviews, but always end up laughing. He talks a lot of sh*t on Twitter as well, which always keeps me amused!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your company?
We are about to start a new division called Jick Jack, which has been set up to work with some of the best UK and global licenses. We are working with another company who are helping us acquire some very exciting children’s licenses and we will be launching a whole bunch of apps from March onwards under the Jick Jack name.

Want to be featured in our Start-Up Spotlight? Contact Aaron.Lee@intentmedia.co.uk with details of your company to be considered for inclusion.