Brothers Adrian and Dan Hon set up online game and app company Six to Start in 2008 as the world teetered on the edge of the global economic crash.
The company quickly gained numerous accolades for its work on online and alternate reality games for publishers and broadcasters including the BBC. Flash forward four years and its latest effort, Zombies, Run!, is taking the apps market by storm. Downloads reached 100,000 within weeks and the fitness app held the number one spot on Apple's top grossing health & fitness worldwide chart for over two weeks.
Here, Adrian explains why Six to Start decided to crowdfund development of the app, and reveals why the company is moving away from developing content for others in favour of creating its own games.
What is Zombies, Run!?
It's extremely simple. You put your headphones in, open the app and start running. Once you start, you hear mission control talking to you and are given a minute of story before your own music kicks in. You run at your own pace but occasionally you'll hear the zombies approaching forcing you to speed up. We don't care where you are, you could be in the gym or outside, you just keep running.
Was the game a move away from previous Six to Start content?
When we set up Six to Start back in 2008 we wanted to do two things. The first was to create online games for others, which we did for the likes of Penguin, Channel 4 and the BBC. At the same time we wanted to develop our own games. However, as we discovered, combining the two is much harder than it sounds.
When you've gained a reputation, which we had through our work for other clients, it's easy enough to get work. You know in advance how much you'll be paid and can base a lot of business decisions, including staff resource, on that. But when you start developing your own products you're spending money that you haven't made yet. As a result, you often end up prioritising the work you're doing for clients. We won lots of awards for our early projects working with big brands but the trouble with that business model was that we were always faced with either too much work or too little.
What lessons did you learn from this period?
We had a rocky couple of years but what we've managed to do in the last year or two is maintain a really compact core team. I've learned how to evaluate which projects we should take on and how much resource they will require. In terms of developing our own games the big lesson has been that you can't rush this stuff. Everyone needs to be onboard. If they're not, then it's not exciting enough.
Was this the principle you adopted for Zombies, Run! ?
We came up with the idea over the course of about a year and spent a long time thinking about it and really refining it. We made sure it was something we could create entirely in-house. The other crucial thing we did was fund the project through crowdfunding website Kickstarter. We asked for $12,500, an arbitrary number, but based on what I thought we could easily achieve. I assumed we could raise two to four times this amount but we ended up raising $73,000 in month and had over a thousand pre-sale orders. This meant the development of the game was paid for before it even launched.
Why did you choose crowdfunding as opposed to traditional equity investment?
We could have gone for angel funding but we knew this could take months and the crowdfunding route allowed us to raise the money much more quickly. I'd also had some experience with Kickstarter and knew the Zombies, Run! proposition was one that would work well for crowdfunding. But using Kickstarter wasn't just about raising money. It meant we had 3,500 backers - a core committed audience who had all put down money. This provided a great marketing platform we wouldn't have had with angels.
Will all your focus now be on mobile gaming?
We wouldn't rule out a browser-based game but mobile is attractive because it's a really easy way to get people to pay for your content. Most people in our target audience have a smartphone and by the end of 2012, a third of them will have a tablet. Admittedly a browser-based game gives you a bigger audience and there are things you still can't do with a mobile platform. We're interested in ideas that can straddle the two platforms. But Zombies, Run! isn't a massively technologically challenging project - it's just nobody before us has thought about using the technology in that way. We're like using the technologies that are already fully understood but haven't yet been perfected.