For the first in a new series looking at the winners from the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce Best for Business awards, Charlotte Shepherd met Oli Christie, managing director of Neon Play.
OVERHEARING that my next interview is with the boss at Neon Play, my 10 year-old son, for the first time ever, takes an interest in my work. He is not only amazed that the maker of one of his favourite games on his iPod touch machine ‘Paper Glider’ is based in Cirencester, but he has also never considered that someone could get paid to make games all day.
“I am still slightly flabbergasted by how well it has gone,” admits Neon Play managing director Oli Christie, who set up his mobile games studio in Cirencester in June 2010. “I am so proud of the team. They are all brilliant at their jobs.”
This “brilliance” was rewarded in May at the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce business awards, supported by the Wilts and Glos Standard, when Neon Play walked off with awards for Innovation of the Year and the highly prized ‘Best of the Best” award. : Neon Play primarily creates games or apps (applications) for Apple Mac devices, including iPods and iPhones. Customers download the games, which are often free, from an App store and can then choose to pay if they wish to unlock other levels of the game.
Neon Play’s first game Flick Football was launched just before the World Cup last year after games whizz and technical director Mark Allen joined the team. The game was a huge success. “That game did amazingly well and enabled us to take on two more people,” said Mr Christie.
Flick Football has been followed by, amongst other, Paper Glider and Golf Putt Pro and the company has to date had over 23 million downloads of games and seven UK number 1 games. It is now using software that will enable its games to be downloaded by users of computer devices other than Apple. “The growth potential is massive,” explained Mr Christie.
The company has grown fast in just 16 months and now has 16 members of staff. Attracting the best in the gaming industry has been crucial for Mr Christie and the work environment at Neon Play certainly helps.
Areas of the office resemble a youth club, with a pool table, darts board, beans bags and X Box machine. Staff are taken out for drinks every Friday after work and are given the day off on their birthday.
“We are making games so the workplace has to inspire creativity. Games should be fun so we need a fun working environment,” said Mr Christie.
The company is expanding all the time. It is designing its first game for Facebook, is getting involved in the children’s market through its new company Jick Jack and has a new arm, Brightside mobile which will look to work with and encourage independent gamers.
Being a part of the community is very important to Neon Play and this fledgling company is already working with Cirencester College to find the next generation of talented game designers. “Our dream is to cherry pick the best,” he said.
And Paternoster School, a school for children with special needs in Cirencester, is the company’s charity of choice. “They are small enough for us to make a real difference,” explained Mr Christie.
There is no doubt that Neon Play is looking to position itself as a major player in the massive games market. “We want to get to 50 million downloads and keep growing,” said Mr Christie. “I want Cirencester to become a hub for mobile app makers. I want a mini Silicon Valley in the Cotswolds.”