Cirencester's Neon Play is the toast of the town
For the third year running, mobile app studio Neon Play was a winner at the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, receiving two awards from judges. Charlotte Shepherd spoke to Neon Play managing director Oli Christie about the company’s continued success.
IN JUST three years, mobile app studio Neon Play has gone from creating its first game in founder Oli Christie’s kitchen, to its current status as an international player in the gaming industry with 50 million downloads of its games.
Along the way, the Cirencester-based company has grown from just Oli Christie and technical director Mark Allen to include 21 full time employers and three part-time students from Cirencester College.
And this year, Neon Play was one of only five company’s in Gloucestershire to pick up a coveted Queen’s Award for Enterprise, making it the only mobile games company in the UK to have won one. “It was mind blowing to drive through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen,” explained Oli. “It’s a seriously prestigious award and makes people take you more seriously. It has given us more kudos and credibility.”
Oli is rightly proud of what Neon Play has achieved in three years. “When we set up with the game Flick Football we were making it up as we went along. We were ambitious but we could never have foreseen what we would achieve.”
This year judges at the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce Business Awards celebrated the many achievements of Neon Play by naming the company as its Business of the Year (less than 25 staff) and the Team of the Year.
Oli explained: “It is the first year we have won either of these awards. It was great to win team of the year because it is all about the team. It is not about egos here. Making a game is such a team process and requires such a mix of skills. To win this award justifies what we are trying to do.”
What Oli has tried to do over the last three years is to create a happy and well-motivated team because he believes that leads to a more productive workforce. “There is a great team spirit here. We try to make it a better place to work. We want people to wake up excited to go to work,” he said.
“We are incredibly proud to be in Cirencester but recruitment would be easier if we were in Bristol and London,” Oli admitted. “But we do convince some high calibre people to come here and move their entire lives to Cirencester.”
Desirable offices in the Old museum in Cirencester and a new ping pong table certainly help with this.
Neon Play found itself in a competitive field to win the 2013 Business of the Year award. Judges were looking for excellence and achievement in a range of areas and described Neon Play as one of Cirencester’s “greatest success stories.
“I feel that we have created something very different and unconventional in Cirencester. We are a new industry and not something you would associate with Cirencester,” Oli explained.
Neon Play is extremely proud of its Cirencester home and has forged strong links with the local community, offering valuable experience to students from Cirencester College and helping to develop computing courses at Gloucester College and the University of Gloucestershire. The company aims to develop the gamers of the future.
Strong links with local charities including Timmy’s Trust and Cirencester CHYP complete the picture of a company with an international reach (it has games sales in 155 countries, including one sale in North Korea!) but a local touch.
Since setting up in 2010, the gaming industry has changed and Neon Play is altering the way that it operates to keep up. “It is harder now than when we launched. More companies realise they can make serious money out of apps,” Oli explained.
However, the successes keep rolling in and last year’s Traffic Panic London achieved 6-7 million downloads alone and was top 5 in the Amazon, Apple and Google charts. “It was a massive achievement,” admitted Oli.
So-called freemium games, a mix of free and premium paid apps, are making the money and these take a lot longer to develop. Because of this Neon Play has devoted 20 of its team over many months to creating just one game. “We are working on a top secret game of a really high quality. We have realised that small games can be successful but not as successful as these games.”
With current king of mobile gaming, Finnish company Supercell generating $2.4 million every day with just two games, Hay Day and Clash of Clans it is easy to see why Neon Play has devoted so much time and manpower to develop its own freemium app.
So what, aside from this latest top secret app, does the future hold for the Cirencester Business of the Year? Oli hopes to double the size of the workforce within two years. “We want to stay in Cirencester but perform incredibly well on a global basis,” he said.
And with the Team of the Year around him and a Queen’s Award on the mantelpiece, Oli sees no reason that Neon Play cannot be “one of the best mobile app companies in the world.”
* Neon Play is at The Old Museum, Cirencester, GL7 1UP. Call 01285 650600 or go to www.neonplay.com