Our start-up of the week is 9th Impact, a Galway-based company that develops games for mobile devices.
9th Impact is the company behind the popular video game Biker Mice from Mars which is available on the App Store and on Google Play. The start-up recently received investment support from Enterprise Ireland.
“9th Impact develops games for mobile devices,” explained Finn Krewer, head of development at the company.
‘We’ve all been creating games since we were kids but started to collaborate, and it was only as the games became more successful that we formed a real company’
– FINN KREWER
“Some games are based on characters and stories licensed from TV shows and some are our own creations. All parts of the game development process – design, programming, art, writing, publishing and marketing – are done in our studio in Galway.”
The global video games industry is worth $84bn and mobile phones and tablets are a fast-growing segment.
“We distribute all our games globally through Apple’s App Store, Google Play Store and other places most people have never heard of, such as Yandex, which is huge in Russia,” Krewer explained.
“We translate our games into multiple languages and have more non-English speakers playing than English speakers, although our biggest market by revenue is still the US.”
Krewer and one of the other directors, Mark Quick, are graduates of electronic & computer engineering in NUI Galway. Another co-owner, Fabio Stara, is an artistic designer.
“I was just finishing my PhD research in computational modelling in NUI Galway, Mark was a founder of software company SourceDogg, who are still neighbours of ours in the Galway Technology Centre, and Fabio had worked in that company, so we all knew each other,” Krewer recalled.
“We’ve all been creating games since we were kids but started to collaborate, and it was only as the games became more successful that we formed a real company.
“The team has grown to eight now and we have a great mix of really talented engineers, 3D modellers, graphic artists and writers.”
9th Impact has five games on Apple and Android phone and tablets.
“The games are all free to download and we make revenue by some players buying items within the game and also through showing advertisements during the game.
“We run Lean Agile processes to manage the development of multiple games simultaneously and use repositories to keep the code under control.
Krewer said that the company’s 3D models are created in Maya, 3DS Max or Blender, and they program in C# using the Unity Pro engine and host the back-end services on Amazon servers.
“We’d love to have a game that tops the App Store charts, but our focus is on building our portfolio of games, updating and improving our current games, translating into new languages and attracting new players.
‘The sector would definitely benefit from Section 481 tax relief being extended to games, which is a tax break currently given to investors in film, television dramas, documentaries and animations’
– FINN KREWER
“We’d rather a long term sustainable business than trying to create a one-hit wonder game, but achieving both would be ideal.”
9th Impact’s first game NinjaGo Endless Runner recently passed a milestone of 10m games played and games based on the Biker Mice from Mars TV series are growing rapidly.
“We were self-funded in the early days and received grant support from the Local Enterprise Office and have now secured investment from Enterprise Ireland through their Competitive Start Fund.
“We’re working on new games and new licensing deals and will hopefully raise another round of investment later in the year to expand the team.”
Taking a chance on the game of life
Krewer said that there’s been plenty of challenges along the way.
“We spent several months preparing demos and flying to the US, competing for the rights to make the official Biker Mice from Mars game.
‘There’s no reason an Irish games company won’t create the next Candy Crush and it’s actually only a matter of time before we see that’
– FINN KREWER
“It worked out well in the end, but during that time we were using time and funds that we didn’t know would have a return.
“Getting the people with the right skills and the right cultural fit for the company is an ongoing challenge and one of the most critical areas for us, but we’ve been extremely lucky to date, finding talent locally and enticing people to relocate from Dublin.”
Krewer said that it is not impossible to imagine the next video game sensation like Candy Crush emerging from an Irish games house.
“There’s a lot of activity in games development in Ireland recently, from lone developers to large operations like Digit in Dublin. There’s no reason an Irish games company won’t create the next Candy Crush and it’s actually only a matter of time before we see that.
“There [are] great supports from Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland; and Westbic is a fantastic resource for business planning and assisting with access to private investment.
“The sector would definitely benefit from section 481 tax relief being extended to games, which is a tax break currently given to investors in film, television dramas, documentaries and animations.
“Creating games is an artistic pursuit just like the others and almost all games sales are outside of Ireland, so it creates immediate export earnings.”
Krewer’s advice to fellow start-ups and game creators would be to get a product out in the market quickly, if at all possible.
“We kept producing, publishing and improving our games as fast as possible and as a result, are showing constant growth and consistent improvements in products and internal processes.”