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How we made Flick Football

Diary of a startup 3

The third instalment of the ongoing saga...

Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones beware. There's a new diary on the block. Alright, it's not as good, but it is a diary. 

And it's part 3 and this month, we go through the process of creating our first iPhone game Flick Football. Read the diary here.

Or if you’d rather just read it without clicking anywhere at all, just keep scrolling down.


Our first iPhone app

So we have a company name, a logo, a culture, an ethos and an empty office. That’s a good start, but we don’t actually have anything to sell or earn us revenue. Ah yes, we need our first game.

In my previous two companies (Panlogic and InboxDMG), the first viral games we produced were both huge successes. One was Splat the MP, in which you threw eggs at John Prescott. The other was Speedy Santa, in which you dragged your mouse around a track. Both did incredibly well and followed that trusty old mantra that games should be easy to play but a challenge to master.

So I was trying for the hatrick with Neon Play’s first game. I also knew that if this did well, it could help us grow quickly and that’s ultimately the aim. Also, quite frankly, we needed the revenue. So it had to do well really, which wasn’t going to be easy with 200,000+ apps to compete with.

Getting an idea

So I went away on holiday with an empty book and a black biro. I spent most of my time (to the annoyance of my wife) filling the book with ideas for games I thought Neon Play could make. Then it was a matter of choosing one that had the most potential to make it big.

Mark, my new partner/technical director, and I went through the book and agreed that a football game would be a good plan with the World Cup approaching. We decided on a game where you flick a football in a Bend It Like Beckham-type way, curving the ball around the wall to score goals.

This is the scamp from my ideas book for this game. We called it Flick Football.

Flick Football scamp

Design evolution

As I didn’t have the funds to employ a full-time designer, I called a great freelance designer I’d worked with called Ben and we agreed a one-price deal to design the game. I also said that if the game got into the top 25 UK apps, we’d double his fee. That felt fair and I was genuinely delighted when we ended up paying double.

If you’re reading this, you’ll no doubt have been involved in the design of a website, email, press ad or something, so you’ll know the often long-winded process getting to the final design can be. If so, this series of images showing how the landing page design evolved might interest/amuse you.

These were the first three designs that Ben did:

Flick Football

Flick Football

Flick Football

They didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, but the final one was heading in the right direction, so we gave Ben some feedback and this was the next stage:

Flick Football

Flick Football

Progress was being made, feedback followed and we were nearly reaching our nirvana with this next one.

Flick Football

Some small tweaks and we had the final design (below right). Thank you Ben.

Flick Football

We were now ready to make a game.

Developing the game

We had taken on a 3D artist who helped create the stadium environment and Mark then got to work programming the game itself.

This is a fluid process of building, testing, giving honest feedback and getting it to the stage where it’s just pure unadulterated fun. Here’s a video of early build of the game:

It was clearly fun as I was spending every spare second playing the game and bending those damn balls around the wall. After weeks of development, honing and testing, we had a game ready to submit to Apple.

Here’s a video of the finished product:


As well as launching the 59p full version of Flick Football, we also launched Flick Football Lite, which was a try-before-you-buy version with a practice mode. This helped upsell the main game. We also did a deal with Miniclip to promote the game. This gave us a launchpad and would hopefully build enough web/mobile presence to get the ball rolling.

I won’t deny it, we got lucky and the app did well. And amazingly, it’s still doing pretty well, sitting pretty in the Top 50 games chart.

Even though we didn’t know anyone at Apple at the time, it picked up the game and featured it in Staff Favourites and in the ’Soccer’ section, which it was promoting during the World Cup. This helped a lot.

The game peaked during the World Cup at number 8 in the UK paid charts. And the free Lite version hit the number-one spot. In total, Flick Football and Flick Football Lite have had more than 1.3m downloads to date (with most of them free, sadly).

We also created what’s called a universal app, which means the same version works for iPhones and iPads. Amazingly, Flick Football was the second highest downloaded UK iPad app of 2010. A nice piece of PR.

What next?

So we had our first game live and it was going great guns. It enabled us to take on two more people, which was step one to growing Neon Play and making more games. We had luck, but I genuinely believe you create your own luck and we did that by having a great game that looked good, played addictively and was well marketed. The World Cup helped create the perfect storm. We were off and running, though, and we could see potential to make a success of Neon Play.

Next month: Kitting out our office, getting your name out there and the importance of networking


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