Adrian Hon is the Founder and Chief Creative at Six to Start, an award-winning online games company. Working with the likes of Penguin Books, Disney and the BBC, their transmedia experiences have engaged millions of people in new ways. Adrian originally trained as a neuroscientist at Cambridge and Oxford and also writes for The Telegraph about technology. So, basically, he really knows his stuff! BookMachine has peered into Adrian’s world of augmented reality and this is what we found…
1. Six to Start create transmedia experiences, mixing storytelling and game play – what got you into this area of the industry?
I originally got into it through playing ‘Alternate Reality Games’ (ARGs) back in 2001; online games that combined phone calls, emails, websites, physical artefacts, and real world events into an immersive story. It was the first time I’d seen the real potential of the internet used for storytelling and gaming purposes and even though I was still in the middle of a neuroscience degree at the time, I knew I wanted to work on these kinds of games. In 2004 I joined Mind Candy as their Director of Play, and in 2007 I founded Six to Start with my brother Dan to create bespoke transmedia experiences for brands.
2. Having worked with the likes of Disney, Penguin Books, the BBC and Channel 4, what are the most important lessons that you’ve learned from creative partnerships?
They take a lot of work to get right! We’ve done dozens of projects over the lifetime of the company, and while I think almost all of them have gone well, only a few have been truly ground-breaking. On those occasions, it’s because there’s been a genuine sense of collaboration and trust between us and our clients. Now, everyone says that they do that all the time, but in practice there are always difficult issues that interfere, like lack of time, money, focus, different priorities, and so on. It’s hard to make it work.
While we have shifted our business to focus on our own apps like Zombies, Run! – since they make far more money than contract work and provide us with far greater creative freedom and independence – we still really enjoy working with people like Disney Imagineering, as they bring their own expertise to bear on the work and provide some detailed, useful feedback to what we do.
3. Your app, Zombies, Run!, reached 100,000 sales within weeks of hitting the app store – can you tell us about it? Why do you think it was so successful?
Zombies, Run! is a running game and audio adventure co-created by Six to Start and writer Naomi Alderman. We deliver the story straight to players; headphones through orders and voice recordings, and they you get back home, you use the supplies you’ve collected while running to build and grow your base. It uses GPS and the phone’s accelerometer to track progress.
It was successful because it’s a simple idea that solves a problem that a lot of people have: giving them the motivation to run more and keep fit. Pretty much everyone wants to be fitter than they currently are, and most normal people find it difficult to summon up the effort to get out and run, especially if they’re new to it and it’s a rainy Sunday morning. Zombies, Run! is cheaper than a week of gym membership and works much better.
The fact that it’s a simple idea has helped the game spread by word of mouth, unlike many more complicated apps and games. We’ve done next to no paid advertising and marketing and yet we’ve outsold almost every app made by publishers at this point.
4. What is your view on pricing apps at £5.99 rather than £0.99?
We can sell Zombies, Run! for more than the ‘usual’ price for apps because of two reasons. Firstly, we have no competition. While there are other free fitness apps like Nike+ and Runkeeper, none of them are games. Secondly, we’re a health and fitness app, and people value their health pretty highly.
5. Why did you decide to crowdsource funding for Zombies, Run! via Kickstarter?
We needed some capital to get going on the game, and we also wanted to assess demand. Going to a traditional investor (let alone getting a loan) would have taken much longer, cost us more in equity, and still wouldn’t have helped us assess demand.
6. Finally, can you tell us what’s in the pipeline for the future? And what your dream project would be?
We’re currently hard at work on Zombies, Run! 2 which will be coming out in Spring, and will be a huge improvement over the first app, plus a continuation of Naomi’s brilliant story. We’re also developing a prototype health app for the NHS right now, and this year we’ll be looking at making a brand new, non-health-and-fitness game!
Dream project… I’m not sure. I think we have a decent chance at making that this year or next!