A Bold Plan

Did I ever tell you how I got the job at Bullfrog? It's one of the things that get asked quite a lot - the old "How did you get a job in the games industry?" thing. If you haven't heard the story yet, can I just say ahead of time that I recommend this approach in absolutely no way.

School's Out!

Where's Alex?
Picture the scene - it's the last day of school and all of my friends are lazing around on the playing field and discussing things like what they're going to do for their second year of A Levels or which university has already expressed an interest in them. That sort of thing.

Muggins here, however, would not be joining in with these frivolities. Not for him the debt-inducing spectre of further education. Oh no. He had plans*. Big plans**. And with that, he was off and out in to the big, wide world.

A short while later and my careers advisor got me a place on a YTS course. For the uninitiated, the YTS was the last bastion of those kids that really didn't know what they wanted to do or just plain didn't have the grades to go and do it after school. This particular course was focussed on those new-fangled computers and stuff. Thankfully, this was something I already knew something about. As I could already do the technical aspects - rudimentary coding and use of programs like word processors or databases - the educational part of this course was minimal. So minimal that I'd often get myself in to trouble by binning off the regular assignments and just writing simple games for my friends instead.

I have a lovely quote from one of the supervisors there. She was always getting fed up with me going off curriculum and said "You'll never make a living making computer games".

No, the value in the course was it's work placement program and these guys managed to find me a small firm in Guildford called Pipistrel***. Now here, I learned a lot. Mainly programming stuff, like how to write in C rather than BASIC. The guy who ran the place had even published books on programming for kids that I remember reading in school - they had little robots in them that would show you where the bugs were and how everything worked. In a few months I was even writing code for a portable handheld touchscreen device - in 1989! Good times.

Then I met Sean Cooper on the bus one evening. Funnily enough, he'd been on that same YTS course as I, just one year earlier. Now he worked for Bullfrog. I had heard of them because my friend Scott and I used to bunk off school to play Populous on his Atari ST. Sean told me that they were always looking for people and that I should come in and meet the guys.

So I did. I turned up and had an interview with Peter. He seemed quite pleased with me and asked when I could start. I wanted two weeks to sort it out with the Pipistrel guys and not leave them in the lurch too much. They didn't want me to go - they even offered to match Bullfrog's salary offer - but I was convinced that games was something I should probably get in to.

Two weeks later and I'm sitting in the Bullfrog office when Peter walks in and asks "What the fuck are you doing here? I never offered you the job".

Now this is not something that any young, would-be employee wants to hear. I was a bit shell-shocked really. I can remember going around the corner to the local board games shop and telling the guy that I think I'd made an horrific decision. Then we sat down and played Talisman to calm my nerves.

My dad insisted that I got back in touch with Pipistrel and got  my old job back, but I didn't want that. Pride? Embarrassment? A bit of both, certainly. Instead, I signed on the dole and waited for something to happen.

For the next six months, nothing really happened. I stayed in touch with Bullfrog, kinda hoping that it would somehow all sort itself out. In fact, a couple of times, Peter would call me up and ask if I could come in and play some of the games because they had journalists coming around and they wanted to make the place look busy. This was a very depressing period for me - out of school, out of work, on the dole and coming under increasing pressure to just get a job anywhere. But I'd seen that the thing I wanted to do was out there. So I waited.

Then one day he called me up and told me they had a spot open up for a tester. The guy who had the job (funnily enough, one of my school friends) had fallen in love with an American lass and had moved to the States. Apparently, I'd seemed quite enthusiastic which, if ever you want to get into Peter's good books, is exactly the way to go about it.

So there you have it. I met a guy on the bus, quit my old job and hung around for 6 months on the off chance that these new guys would hire me. It's hardly what you'd call a guarantee for success. As a side note, I bumped in to that supervisor a few months after landing the Bullfrog gig. Turns out the company running the YTS scheme went bust and she was on the dole. Go figure.

It's not the only time I've been out of work either. When Lost Toys folded it was a while before I got the job at Kuju. Likewise, when my contract ran out at EA or post Black Rock's collapse. Each time, I was able to land on my feet thanks to an extensive network of contacts and a very understanding partner.
Sproglet. It's on its way.

This time around it's a bit different as there's a bit of a time constraint. Young Sproglet is due in a couple of months and by then we need to be living in a bigger place and ideally with something that could be termed an 'income'. So it's not really for me to be biding my time and waiting for good fortune to just flop into my lap once more.

Plan A

Actually, scratch that. History thus far shows that Leanne and I are no good at Plan A. A Plan must be labelled at least C or D for it to have a chance of succeeding in our book.

As I've detailed before, Plan A would consist of finding another job pretty sharpish. Several things have already occurred along these lines, but nothing concrete has emerged just yet.

But then a couple of conversations have happened that have changed things a bit. Recently, I chatted to an old friend who suggested I look up another old friend who might be trying to get something going on iOS. It looks pretty neat and nearly everything is in place for him to be able to put this game out there... except it doesn't look like he has a particular plan for it and we've all seen him go at these things, for want of a better term, half-cocked.

Old friend #1 suggested getting together with old friend #2 and maybe running a Kickstarter to get the funds to do the thing justice. It wouldn't even have to be one of those big, epic jobs - just 30-40k perhaps?

Now the thing with Kickstarters is that you have to do them properly. Aside for the month they take to run, you've got to plan for at least the same amount of time ahead of time to get it all set up. There's all kinds of crap you need for it to have a chance of success - not just a decent video and some supportive friends. So the trick would appear to be getting enough capital together ahead of time to be able to survive the Kickstarter process (including however long it takes after you make it - assuming you do - to get your grubby little paws on the funds themselves).

Let's say 2-3 months. How much would it cost to survive 2-3 months? This is something I started to think about...

And there's the problem. Instead of following Plan A, we've found ourselves a couple of letters further along.

Why don't we make a simple game, release it on iOS and use the money from that to do our own Kickstarter for something much bigger?

I mean, it helps that a couple of things have already happened - winning that Unity Pro license, Boss Alien being nice about letting me go, already starting to write a game anyway - but could this actually be done?

Our game, currently in progress
I started making a game a while back, partly as an exercise to see what it's like trying to put something up on the App Store and partly because that's just what I like to do anyway. It's a simple game that certainly isn't going to win any prizes for originality - especially since Puzzle & Dragons has now got a worldwide release - but that was never the aim.

I'm confident we can make what we have into a decent game. Even now, it's pretty playable - raw, certainly, but playable and at the stage where 'testing' and 'playing' are beginning to blur nicely. But can we get it to a stage where we can release it? Stick it in the metaphorical box and ship it?  As anyone will tell you, that's one of the hardest bits of the job.

It doesn't even have to be a million seller - it just has to make enough to cover us for the next couple of months (although obviously the million seller would be nice...) - the one that we'll be Kickstarting for will get me the Lambo****.

It's a daunting thing though, unemployment. And a hell of a risk. One that I couldn't possibly recommend to anyone in good conscience. It will doubtless require the full use of my extensive support network who, I feel, are about to get hit up quite extensively over the next couple of weeks.

Either way, if we can pull this off, it might make for one hell of a story.

* No actual plans.
** No actual plans of any size.
*** It's a type of bat.
**** Possibly stuff for the baby instead.


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