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Thanks to Mike’s mentoring, Playniac is now more confident approaching publishers. It has improved the quality of its promotional materials, refined its business plan, gained new business skills and engaged with many more publishers and key industry figures.                

The mentee company's challenge

Rob Davis’s company, Playniac, had been developing games on commission since 2010. With a stellar client list, it had worked with broadcasters, entertainment and learning companies on products which Rob and his team describe as “thinky games”.

The next step for Playniac was to go it alone; to publish and fund its own games, retaining the intellectual property in a range of new creations. The team was faced with a huge challenge that involved changing Playniac’s business model to innovate not just for its clients but also in its own right. Rob realized that this would introduce new challenges for the business and decided he needed some help to get it right.

The mentoring process

Nesta matched Playniac with renowned video games expert Mike Hayes, former President and CEO of SEGA Europe and SEGA USA, one of the world’s major games developer-publishers. He was ideally placed to counsel and mentor Rob and his team through the period of transition.

Rob and Mike held regular mentoring sessions to discuss the planned transition. These were often attended by Rob’s staff, allowing everyone in the company to feel part of the process. Mike’s guidance went beyond simply ‘how to release your own games’ and included advice on recruitment, pitching and funding. 

‘Rehearsing’ was a big part of Mike’s mentoring strategy. Rob would independently prepare a pitch for a new game, which Mike would review, making suggestions, adjustments and changes. Next, Rob would deliver the pitch to one of Mike’s industry colleagues, receiving invaluable, direct feedback from an independent expert.

Following Mike’s advice, the Playniac team also prepared financial models, sample art work and promotional videos. Mike set up eight meetings for Rob which allowed him to perfect his pitch skills, while making vital new contacts with industry experts. This culminated in a round of pitching at GDC 2013 and Game Connection 2013 in San Francisco, the latter where Playniac was also a ‘Selected Projects’ finalist.

Results and lessons learned

Thanks to Mike’s mentoring, Playniac is now more confident approaching publishers. It has improved the quality of its promotional materials, refined its business plan, gained new business skills and engaged with many more publishers and key industry figures. 

Mentoring showed Playniac that business transitions are not straightforward and changes often take longer than expected. The company has made huge strides towards this as a long-term goal and, in the meantime, Playniac continues to work on its own innovative games projects and a number of exciting commissions from international clients, with both parts of the business benefiting each other.

Hints and tips

  • Mike Hayes’ work with Rob and the Playniac team demonstrates that mentoring is a great option for a company going through a period of transition or change. It provides advice, support and a timeframe in which to achieve the planned changes.
  • Take a pro-active attitude and you’ll get the most out of your mentor. 
  • Mentoring is a low risk option compared with hiring a consultant or taking a non-exec onto a board but can be just as effective.
  • Having a mentor on board can highlight the need to change course or re-prioritise business objectives – be open to both.
  • Mentoring is a relaxed option, allowing both mentor and mentee to develop a comfortable working relationship that can be as structured or flexible as required.   

Photos: Mentor Mike Hayes and mentee Rob Davis