Chris Kempt: My encounter with the Dragons

Chris Kempt: My encounter with the Dragons
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

August 21st 2014 at 10:39AM

Kempt Games CEO reflects on his experience on BBC show Dragons' Den

If you caught the latest episode of Dragons' Den, you would have seen UK games developer Chris Kempt attempting to win investment from TV's second-most intimidating business (let's face it, they're not quite as scary as Lord Alan Sugar).

Kempt, CEO of Kempt Games, asked the Dragons for £250,000 with the offer of a 25 per cent stake in his development studio, which produces free-to-play games such as Stunt Guy 2.0, the title he chose to demonstrate on the show.

If you're quick, you can still catch the episode on BBC iPlayer – watch out for Kempt's impressive entrance around the 23-minute mark. Spoiler alert: he came home empty handed.

Having braved this daunting board of investors, Develop caught up with Kempt to find out what he learned from the experience and what the next step for Kempt Games is.

Why did you apply for a spot on Dragon's Den?

Crikey, that’s a big question. It was a fairly rash decision with a fairly simple basis. Every indie studio needs to do two things: find the resources to build their vision, and find a way to promote it. We’ve been trying to get stuff done alongside work-for-hire projects for years but they always end up being the poor relation to the paying gigs, which can become very frustrating. We wanted a to find a way to solve that problem and fund/promote a project properly. Dragons' Den offers both of those things.

Despite not coming home with the cash, what did you gain/learn from the experience?

In terms of gains, it’s done wonders for our profile and had a very positive effect on our downloads. As an estimate I’d say the show has delivered about £40k’s worth of installs (in ad terms), so even though we didn’t get the investment it was still a big win for us and we’re learning a lot about how these kinds of media attention effect a game, which I'm sure will be useful in future. 

Why do you think the Dragons chose not to invest in your game?

I think it was a mixture of reasons: I could have pitched it better, it wasn’t their kind of project, it was too risky or perhaps they didn’t like my casual approach. But in my opinion it came down to one key thing – the pitch was too complex to get across in three minutes and they didn’t really understand it – partially because they were too busy playing the game while I was giving it!

Why do you believe it's still worthy of investment?

One thing that didn’t come across on the telly was that I wasn’t pitching the game but a series of games and an investment in the studio as a whole. Our profit has reduced since we started doing our own IP but even at current profitability the investment could have easily returned around five to 10 per cent a year until we get that all-important hit. Also, the plan has developed since the show was filmed – we have two more games out since then and every week we get a better understanding of what we’re doing here.

What's the next step for you? Are you targeting other investors?

Yes, we have some discussions underway and we’ll see where they go but ultimately it’s all about the games. We need to spend a few months servicing the current crop and then we’ll look at the next title in the series but we haven’t decided what that is yet. The key thing will be to access what we’ve achieved over the last 12 months, work out what was successful and build from there.

What are you long-term plans for Kempt Games? How will you accomplish these?

I’d like us to get at least one more Magnificent Stunts game out in the next year or so but I also want to start looking at other IPs. We have a really nice one calle BMRex – a bike-balance game about a T-Rex riding a penny-farthing. I’d also like to look at something that’s a bit more experimental in gameplay terms and less arcadey. As they say, a change is as good as a rest!

What do you think investors don't understand about the games industry and the nature of success?

I think the main thing is that they don’t understand the need to spread your bets. In our case we were pitching a spread-bet strategy: five or more games with a mixture of free, free-to-play and premium strategies and the studio business as “collateral”. Frankly I think this is the only way to do it – either with one investment in one company that applies a strategy like that, or multiple companies and multiple smaller investments. Anything else, particularly in this market, is either inspired or more likely reckless.

What would you differently if you had a second chance with the Dragons?

If I did it again I’d mainly prepare a bit better and get more rest beforehand. It wasn’t that I didn’t prepare – I just focused on the wrong things. I spent days making the world’s most complex forecasting spreadsheet for modelling a series of inter-related F2P games when I could have probably just made an estimate.

Unfortunately I felt I really needed to understand what I was pitching so I got way too wrapped up in the detail. If I was to do it again I’d keep it much, much simpler and keep the forecasts to round, easy to remember, figures. With regard to rest, I was broken on the day after weeks of crunch and no sleep the night before but to be honest I don’t know what I could have done about that.