Tech start-up of the week: Defiant Games

5 Oct 2014

Darragh Turley, CEO, Defiant Games

Our first tech start-up of the week for October is Defiant Games, which aims to make mobile and tablet games for serious gamers on the go.

For the most part, the mobile gaming market is dominated by casual gamers. Banner titles such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga hit that mark, but provide little to satisfy hardcore video-game fans.

“Our interest is in serving the rapidly growing ranks of gamers who have little interest in spending €4.49 on in-game consumables for a meaningless ‘win’ at a game,” said Defiant Games CEO Darragh Turley.

“We are targeting Xbox, PlayStation and high-end PC gamers on the go, along with the growing masses of casual gamers wanting to move to the next level of gaming.”

Becoming Defiant

Defiant Games officially came into existence at the end of May this year, taking over where a previous project, Krooked Gaming, left off. Krooked Gaming had operated as a sole trader, but the decision was made to incorporate as Defiant Games, which was necessary for participation on DCU Ryan Academy’s Propeller programme but a good idea from a limited liability point of view, especially when selling in the US.

Prior to Propeller, Turley participated in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme in DIT Hothouse, based in Dublin’s docklands.

Turley’s advice for upcoming start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs is to participate in programmes such as these.

“I know it can be a big distraction from the core business to pursue these things, but for us it was well worth the time invested,” he said.

Spying opportunity in a vast market

Though Turley has an academic background in maths and economics, you can see his real passion is for gaming. He founded and ran busy game servers and communities for multiple PC games, including Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2 and Ultima Online.

“I had an amazing and very unique opportunity for many years to interact with thousands of players on our servers every day as I refined the game mechanics and built our communities,” he said.

Turley believes that those with more than a passing interest in gaming are looking for more than a hollow paid-for victory offered by games currently dominating the mobile market.

“These users are more interested in a challenge and bragging rights with their friends,” he said.

For Defiant Games, this represents a significant market opportunity. Shifting just a small portion of a serious gamer’s spend to mobile could reap vast benefits.

Gamescom 2014

The crowd at Gamescom 2014 in Cologne, Germany – Defiant Games’ target market

It was when Turley teamed up with artist Bo Chicoine to create some Xbox games that his endeavours really began to grab attention. Soon, they had three top-rated indie games under their belt – Attack of the Zombie Horde, Attack of the Zombie Horde 2 and Santa and the Zombie Encounter – with trial-to-purchase conversion rates nearing 90pc for the zombie sequel.

Right now, Defiant Games has three games in the pipeline, the first to be ready for early beta testing within the next month and the second a month later. The plan is to test these games with a highly targeted demographic on Facebook.

“While Facebook is not our ultimate target platform, it gives us a great way to target very specific users, refine mechanics and work out any issues as we prepare the games for a larger release through the publishers we are currently engaged with,” Turley explained.

Ireland’s obstacles and advantages

Turley says the biggest challenge for any games company, including Defiant Games, is that all production costs are up front. In Ireland, Turley has also noted roadblocks from limited funding into the games industry.

“It is unfortunate that even with a culture as rich as ours, there are currently very few success stories to cite and even fewer investors here who understand the industry. This puts us as a bit of a disadvantage, investment-wise,” he said.

There’s no straight answer for the shortage of support for an Irish games industry, but Turley suggests that a lack of understanding of the positive social and economic impact of gaming could be at play.

“Most people think reading is a great hobby for kids, but it is incredibly anti-social. TV can be more social, but it dulls the mind. Video games are incredibly social, great for the mind and fantastic for the imagination, yet they seem to still have a level of stigma attached. That seems odd to me but I guess every generation fears the new rock and roll,” he said.

Attack of the Zombie Horde 2 gameplay

Attack of the Zombie Horde 2 gameplay

Turley would like to see tax incentives specifically aimed at the games industry, which he believes could create stable employment.

“The video games industry is an excellent employer elsewhere and an industry that can’t up and leave on a whim. Seems to me like a great one for the Government to get behind the way plenty of other countries have,” he said.

The irony of Ireland’s situation is that Turley finds that there are better opportunities to build a talented team here than in places such as the UK where competition for talent is stiffer.

“There is, without question, an amazing pool of talent here and it’s exciting to think where we’ll be in a couple of years’ time,” he said.

Freedom to innovate

According to Turley, things are going extremely well for Defiant Games, and their ambitions are high.

“Our past successes on Xbox Live Indie Games has allowed us to fund ourselves going forward. Our ambition is the same now as it has always been in everything we’ve done: to be No 1,” he said.

Taking on the games industry heavyweights will require additional resources. However, Turley enjoys the freedom of being an indie developer.

“The great advantage we have over the big guys is that their big budgets are limiting their freedom to take risks and innovate. So the longer they keep selling their virtual buckets of gems and chests of gold in the same basic formula over and over, the better!” he said.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.