How a fractured spine inspired a video game
FALLING DOWN AND breaking his back has paid big dividends for Wellington-based Mark Major – the latest winner of Ideolog’s Pitch Circus competition. A game based on his experience went viral, and now Major’s startup company GameStarter is aiming to be the next big thing in mobile gaming.
Imagine breaking your back in China and being inspired to make a video game about the experience of falling nine metres down a building shaft. Sound far-fetched?
Not if you’re Mark Major, who founded the Kiwi gaming company GameStarter in November 2014, on the back of an accident, where he tumbled through a plank on his way to the local 7-Eleven store.
“I started designing an iPhone game around a horrible experience I had seven years earlier in Beijing, where I fell down a hole a fractured my spine.
“I always wanted to turn that terrifying experience into something a lot more fun; apply a new lens to it.”
Rather than spend thousands of dollars, and years of study, mastering game design, Major turned to a decidedly more cost- effective – and cutting- edge – development method: crowdsourcing.
And he used the platform not just for money, but for ideas, skills and market research too.
“I really see crowdsourcing as a future model for people who want to turn ideas into creations,” he says.
“Crowdsource for expertise – there are armies of very talented people out there.
“And crowdfund to show [your product] is commercially viable. This also teaches you great skills in marketing, promoting yourself and copywriting.”
Major used three main crowdsourcing platforms: 99designs (where you set up a brief and then launch it in the market as a competition with a prize), and social media sites Reddit and Facebook.
“I crowdsourced by going onto Reddit and Facebook and posting a very simple poll targeting iPhone game players. I wanted to determine the best game design and get them to tell me their favourite gameplay features in iPhone games,” Major says.
The outcome was the finished game, Plummet Free Fall, being released for iPhones
Crowdsource for expertise – there are armies of talented people out there. And crowdfund to show your product is commercially viable. This also teaches you great skills in marketing, promoting yourself
in early January. World domination – or at least viral success – garnered international media attention in publications such as China Daily.
“Plummet Free Fall ended up getting 350,000 downloads around the world and was number one in four countries [in terms of total downloads].”
Available free from the Apple App Store, revenue from the game is primarily generated through in-game advertisements. Players can permanently remove ads, however, for $1.29.
Based in Wellington, GameStarter’s eight-person team is currently developing its next mobile game, Plunge Free Dive. This one is based on New Zealander William Trubridge, the current freediving world champion and first person ever to dive down to 100 metres (and come back up again), without air or fins. Trubridge is now embarked on a mission to help the native Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
Major says the team is working hard with people who’ve already expressed interest in the game to determine the best crowdsourcing model to make the next project happen.
“[We are still deciding] whether it is developed through incentivised competitions, or whether we treat it more like a social development company.”
GameStarter’s primary workspace is the startup incubator Creative HQ, where Major says the support has been a boon.
“[The] New Zealand games industry is the opposite of competitive. Other game development companies are happy to support us because the market is so big.
“One of the great things about being part of Creative HQ is the high rate of collisions [accidental meetings] with very talented people who are attracted to startups.”
Still, being involved in a new venture involves some sacrifices. “The worst part is the low personal cash flow early on,” Major says.
“You need to be as lean as possible so you can survive those early stages. Certain luxuries, like craft beer, have to go by the wayside.”
Winning Idealog’s most recent Pitch Circus competition has helped GameStarter take off. But rather than moving up to the aforementioned craft beer, the prize money, Major says, went to runway costs.
Besides, another prize just so happened to be a bottle of very good whisky.
“The bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold has become our Million Dollar Bottle,” Major says.
“We have a list of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) which we review each month. On completion of each BHAG, a glass of whisky is poured for each team member, the goal is celebrated and the bottle marked with the successful goal and date. The plan being that when we finish the bottle of whisky, we will be a million-dollar company.”
On the rise: GameStarter’s team, from left to right.
Bottom: Alistair St Pierre, Nay Lin Htaik. Middle on
chair: Mark Major. Top: Phyo Thu, Hamish Palmer, Joss Doggett.