Just the tonic

TECHCITYINSIDER100: Dave Bailey, co-founder of London and Brighton-based gaming company Mediatonic, tells Clive Whittingham about his company’s ‘games as a service’ business model

For a generation of sports-loving university students, many hours were lost and degree prospects damaged by the addictive nature of Championship Manager.

The game, which allowed you to take over the running of any professional football team in the world and manage it to glory or ruin, was fiercely addictive. Anecdotally, I know of three different people who used to go and put their best suit on if their team ever reached a cup final.

Now called Football Manager, it’s still as popular as ever, but for those who abandoned it when the rigours of professional life took over it’s a daunting experience to return to the newer, advanced versions.

It’s like everything in gaming – advances are quick and strides giant, step away for even six months and you return to find everything has changed. After a particularly unfortunate incident where I broke both my wrists falling out of a tree I taught myself to play Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo with my feet. You couldn’t do that with the present-day versions.

But while graphics, storylines and complexity increase and improve at the top end of the spectrum, the explosion in smartphones and hand-held devices mean that market for the more basic, fun games is stronger than ever.

While I was looking for a nice shirt to lead Grimsby Town into UEFA Cup action (yes, I admit, one of the three was me) Dave Bailey, aged 21, and his fellow Brunel University student Paul Croft were designing games of their own and launching Mediatonic.

“Paul and I formed Mediatonic whilst studying for an undergrad degree in 2005,” Dave recalls. ”We managed to bank some profit in our first year so as soon as the degree was done with, we moved to Westminster and started hiring.”

The growth has never really stopped since. Having moved from Camden to Soho earlier this year and swiftly reached the 50 employee limit they’d set for their London base to “keep the culture right” Bailey and Croft recently opened a new studio in Brighton and are eyeing further expansion into the Far East in time, given the popularity of their games out there. The London office based in Soho will be focused on new ideas; Brighton on analysis and adding to titles already released.

“We’re trying to be commercially savvy, with state of the art business intelligence systems to give our games the best possible chances of succeeding,” Bailey says.

Mediatonic has made its name producing what it calls ‘games as a service’, working with household names like Disney, Time Warner and Microsoft to produce engaging games for handheld devices. It has produced Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess for the PSP and the fun but gruesome Amateur Surgeon among many, many others using Flash and, more recently, HTML5, which Bailey says has a “lot of potential” for the company.

“We co-invest with large media companies to create original games that we run ‘as a service’ for months or years; tuning, refining and supplying new content to keep players entertained.  Our income comes from royalties directly from sales, development fees and live operations.

“‘Games as a service’ is not just a slogan for us, we are spending millions of dollars on infrastructure and talent to allow us to constantly update our games, scale them to millions of people, and operate an analytical powerhouse that helps us achieve the best return on investment possible.

“We’re happy with the growth trajectory that we’re on; we’re determined to prove ourselves as global leader in games as a service.”

The company isn’t short of backing either – fully funded by a combination of “games industry angels” and VCs including Ian Livingstone, Geoff Heath and Michael Enright.

The challenge, as I found with my Mario Kart issues back in the day, is keeping ahead of an ever-advancing industry. Bailey says his company is well set to do so, but admits the pace is relentless.

“More people are playing games than ever and on more devices than ever and this has made for a disruptive period for the games industry. However, it’s good news for Mediatonic as firms look for skilled partners to reach new platforms, business models and demographics,” he says.

“Our biggest challenge next year is staying ahead of the curve when new platforms and business models are emerging at an extraordinary pace.”

Dave Bailey – CV

Since 2005
Chief executive, Mediatonic

2009-2012
Founder, Graphite Digital

2004-05
Global eMarketing, AstraZeneca

2002
Web Developer, GlaxoSmithKline

2000-05
BSc (1st class), Multimedia technology & design, Brunel University