A Fox Wot I Drew (AFWID) is a start-up games company, formed in 2014 and based in Dundee. The team, made up of Dominic Littler, Dan Allen and Kai Creedon, originally formed as part of Abertay’s Dare to be Digital competition, during which they won the first Design in Action / Dare Prize for Commercial Potential – supported by Creative Scotland – for their enchanting 2D platform game, ‘Baum’. A unique physics based puzzler, ‘Baum’s games design was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s mural ‘The Tree of Life’ and Sonic the Hedgehog, amongst others, to demonstrate the power of nature with the beauty of illustration.
Originally formed as a team of five, the genesis of AFWID can be traced back to Norwich University of the Arts where Kai, Dom and another member, Cian McNabola, met whilst studying Games Art & Design. They decided to enter Dare to be Digital 2014 however noticed entry to the competition required a team of five so, following an open online call for programmers, Abertay alumnus Dan Allan and London-based Stephen Harland joined the team.
DiA/Dare to be Digital Prize for Commercial Potential
Launched in 2000 as a pilot competition for Abertay University students, Dare To Be Digital has gone from strength to strength and now welcomes hundreds of entries from students across the globe each year. In 2014, a new prize was conceived by University of Dundee-based research project Design in Action (that also has partners within Abertay) that not only recognises the innovation, talent and hard work that is displayed by the Dare entries but also provides funding for the game most likely to be commercially successful.
The DiA/Dare to be Digital Prize for Commercial Potential comprises of financial backing of £20k, and expert business advice from company formation through to product launch from Design in Action as well as office space, software and resources provided by Abertay University to allow the team to develop the game from prototype to a finished product.
When asked how they felt when they learned they’d won the prize, the team said: “Absolutely delighted! To be given the opportunity to develop our game was incredible, and the knowledge and experience that Design in Action lends to the project has been invaluable. Our hope is that we can work together to get the best possible product to market.”
The prize also provided the team with access to an experienced Dundee non-games designer and illustrator, Lyall Bruce, who helped shape their overall brand and identity as well as redesigning their company logo. Over the year, they have also been introduced to various business contacts, including Apple’s Games Portfolio Manager for Europe who provided guidance on how best to launch their game on the Apple Store. It was then determined that they would launch on iOS as a mobile game in 13 different languages.
Kai and Dom originally had the idea for ‘Baum’ prior to the competition however they decided that Dare to be Digital offered the perfect opportunity to create the prototype.
So what is ‘Baum’?
Its tagline, ‘Drop into a branching experiment in time and nature’, offers some clues to the game’s objective which, like all good games, seems simple to begin with but is incredibly tricky in its execution; to guide a droplet of water through the branches of a great tree by drawing gusts of wind with your finger.
AFWID describe the game as:
“A unique interactive experience. Utilising the adhesiveness of a droplet along with wind created by touch gestures, the player will stick, slide and glide a droplet.”
By launch stage, it will have ?? levels over a number of beautifully illustrated and detailed backgrounds.
Becoming a Business
The team’s initial excitement of winning the award was challenged with the dawning realisation of the complexities of getting a game to market. After the fun part of creating the game, they had to work on their business skills, form a limited company and meet with solicitors and accountants. This changed the dynamic of their relationship in line with the demands that come from transitioning from a new group of friends to working team of professionals.
During this teething process, two members of the original team, Stephen and Cian, expressed their desire to explore other projects and left AFWID leaving three team members to establish their roles within the company. Through learning new business skills Dan Allan has taken on the role of Operations Director/Programmer, Kai Creedon has been developing his presenting and networking skills and assumes the role of Design Director/Developer, and Dom Littler as Creative Director/Artist has press and PR responsibilities and provides all round support to the team as required. The designer advising the team, Lyall Bruce, has helped them to embed a design-led strategy in the business and has developed the company branding with website, social media channels and business cards.
To supplement the team the company has employed a freelance programmer on a fixed hour contract, with the ambition to grow the team if and when ‘Baum’ proves to be a monetary success.
Getting to Market Launch
The team had initially set a target of launching the game by Christmas 2014, however the team quickly understood that to turn the early prototype into a marketable game it would take substantially longer than a few months. Positive feedback from Apple encouraged the team to commit to an August 2015 launch, a year on from winning the Commercial Potential Prize. The new launch date would also provide the opportunity to build up their marketing and press activity, with the assistance of DiA’s Communications Co-ordinator, and to use Dare to be Digital 2015’s and subsequent publicity drive as a catalyst for the launch of ‘Baum’.
Abertay University also agreed to continue their support with office space, equipment and software, as did Design in Action with their design and business advice, and their weekly mentoring meetings continued until the game launched.
However the extended launch date brought the challenge of how they would support themselves financially for the additional eight months. The team applied for a further £10,000 of funding from Design in Action, secured a Make it to Market grant from Scottish Enterprise, and won a contract to create a gamified web-app funded by the Intellectual Property Office, all of which provided crucial cash flow to continue the development of Baum.
During this time, they also garnered user feedback and PR coverage via a number of activities: –
- Testing the game during a senior Computer Games Development class at a Dundee secondary school;
- Showcasing Baum at the University of Dundee’s UNESCO City of Design status launch event, where they presented Baum to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop (http://www.designinaction.com/press/article/stv-dundee/);
- Design in Action Business Showcase, where they told the story of their development to an audience of industry experts and investors (http://www.designinaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/DiA-showcase-programme-nu.pdf)
The journey to launch has been both rewarding and challenging for AFWID. The team has relied on their mentors for guidance when considering finance and resources and to help prioritise in order to achieve their goals. With the launch imminent it is now time for the market to decide if the game will prove a success, and if the team can follow their dream of running their own independent company developing games they love.