From work-for-hire to original Intellectual Property. Hyper Luminal Games’ focus on people and revenue provides a blueprint for growing a successful studio.
Build A Better Business
Dundee’s interactive cluster has a global reputation as the birthplace of Scotland’s videogames industry and is a significant cluster within the global videogames market.
The city contains the majority of the country’s games studios, from well established businesses, through to new indie developers.
In such a competitive environment, how can a new company establish itself as a viable business and break through?
Hyper Luminal Games
In 2014, four students completing their masters degrees at Abertay University decided that they wanted to create a games company and, in their own words, “be millionaires by 30.”
Hyper Luminal Games was formed in June 2014. Within a week, the team realised that making videogames commercially was ‘hard’.
The founders decided that a focus on ‘work for hire’ would be the fastest way to generate revenue and would, very pragmatically, allow other people to “pay them to learn how to make games.”
The new studio started by contacting the more established videogames companies across the Dundee cluster, asking if they had any work which could be subcontracted.
Several studios responded with tasks worth “hundreds, not thousands” of pounds, but which enabled the Hyper Luminal Team to start work, generating revenue and building credibility.
For the first two years Hyper Luminal Games based itself within Abertay University. The studio worked extensively in the academic and third sectors, with diverse projects including forest management (Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh), the Island of Iona (University of Aberdeen), and an animated backdrop for a Cruise Line (Prince Cruises).
“It’s not learning from your own mistakes, but from other people’s mistakes.”Stuart Martin, Co-founder and CEO Hyper Luminal Games
The focus on revenue generation was significant. Hyper Luminal Games was founded in the period between the closure of the Prototype Fund and the launch of the new UK Games Fund, so the studio had no access to funding sources utilised by several other studios across the cluster.
Stuart Martin, the CEO, realised that his skillset was incomplete for the head of an ambitious young studio. He addressed this by attending courses offered by Business Gateway on skills such as funding and finance. In addition, he also sought out more experienced leaders from other games companies within the cluster who were willing to offer advice and mentoring.
In mid 2017, having successfully completed a wide range of educational projects, the studio moved out of Abertay to focus on entertainment.
This ambition came to fruition with the studio’s first project based upon high value third party intellectual property: Monster High from Mattel.
Hyper Luminal Games carried out the development of the game, with fellow Dundee Studio Tag Games managing the production process. For Hyper Luminal it marked the studio’s move into ‘mainstream’ games.
Big Crown Showdown
The company now had the funding and experience to work on its first original title. The goal was to create something simple, with high production values. They brainstormed a number of concepts and settled on a ‘party brawler’ game entitled Big Crown Showdown.
Hyper Luminal demonstrated the game at events across the UK, where several publishers expressed interest. A deal was eventually signed with Sold Out.
The publishing deal enabled Hyper Luminal to greatly expand the ambition of the game, introducing multiplayer gameplay, as well as releasing it across several platforms – the company’s first project to incorporate both elements.
This decision caused a delay of around nine months to the original release date. Big Crown Showdown was eventually released one week after Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, a title with similar gameplay, but featuring a cast of the company’s hugely popular game characters from Mario to Zelda.
While Big Crown Showdown received positive media coverage, it was adversely affected by its big name rival and sales did not meet expectations.
However, thanks to a tight focus on budget, and a prudent use of the videogames tax relief system, the title broke even and gave the studio valuable experience in the development and publishing of original IP.
Global Entertainment Giant
Hyper Luminal Games returned to work-for-hire projects, and thanks to their growing reputation and market experience, were able to attract far larger and higher profile projects. In 2018 the studio worked on a large slate of 15 branded titles for one of the world’s largest entertainment companies.
A New Way of Working
In 2019 Hyper Luminal started looking at a range of original new projects, using publishing partner Sold Out, as part of the decision-making process.
From this process, one title, Gutter Press, was selected for development as having the greatest commercial potential.
The studio’s second title, Cloud Jumper, highlights an entirely new approach to game design and production. The Creative Director shared an animation of a concept he was creating on Twitter. Interest was immediate, with over 500,000 retweets and immediate interest from several publishing companies.
Hyper Luminal found itself in the enviable position of being able to choose from a number of publishers, all competing to bring the game to market, based entirely upon its popularity with the online audience.
This was a new experience for the company and has highlighted a new way they plan to prototype future concepts.
The studio attributes a great deal of its growth and success to date upon its people-centric approach.
Each team member is treated as an individual, with the company working hard to ensure they feel valued and are doing work which is meaningful to them.
Hyper Luminal Games offers an 80/20 rule for staff in which 20% of the time team members are encouraged to pursue their own interests and passions.
The company now has 25 team members, with plans for 30 by the end of 2020.
As a result of its focus on revenue-generating projects, along with building an engaged and empowered team, Hyper Luminal Games has doubled its headcount and its revenue every year.
In 2021, the company plans to focus exclusively on original IP, with several new titles already in development.