Words and interview by Simon Bland
Knowing when to risk it all on something new instead of continuing with more of the reliable same can be a real make or break moment for any company – and this was certainly the case for Nosebleed Interactive. Formed in 2012 in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, this multi-award winning video game studio quickly established themselves as producers of vibrant and hugely playable titles that gave players plenty of bang for their buck. However, as the company continued to grow and their dreams continued to expand, they yearned for more than quick-hit success.
Specialising in titles that are addictive yet able to resist the gamification techniques often used to separate players from their cash, Nosebleed releases respect their audience’s time and energy. Aiming to provide the most layered gaming experience possible, their 2014 hit The Hungry Horde and its 2017 follow up Vostok Inc. both received praise from fans and critics alike. The success was welcome – but with the company’s future looming, Managing Director and studio founder Andreas Firnigl found himself at a crossroad, knowing it was time to take things to the next level but unsure how to make that all-important first step forward.
“I knew we were not quite treading water but wanting to scale up a bit more aggressively than we had been previously,” explains Firnigl, speaking to us about his decision to enrol Nosebleed Interactive onto Creative England’s Games Scale Up programme a few years ago. “The next big game just wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to have two games in the pipeline and more projects on the go too” he adds. “We want to make really compelling games. We’d already been doing that – but we wanted to become a bit more well known for providing that experience.”
Organised by Creative England and UKIE, the Games Scale Up scheme was a six-month course designed to help developers take their business to the next level. For Firnigl, it was just the advice, focus and refinement he and his company needed. “Part of it was overcoming the psychological barrier and admitting that we were growing organically but needed to move up,” he admits. It also put Firnigl in a position where he could look critically about exactly what was needed to take Nosebleed Interactive further. “I know my weaknesses. I’m very creative but I’m not super organised,” he smiles candidly. “So I needed someone to support me in that role.”
This realisation led him to expand his team – most notably by hiring Gordon Bell as the company’s Director and CTO. Straight off the bat, the partnership was a noticeable step in the right direction: “It’s that ying-yang thing,” he chuckles. “I’m the disorganised creative one, he’s very strict and on time with money and budgets – so we work together really well. Gordon was one of the first major hires,” adds Firnigl, recalling his post Scale Up experiences. “It was basically a case of surrounding yourself with the people you need in order to plug all of the gaps.”
With his team expanded, the company could focus their time and energy on their future plans of becoming a multi-team studio that produces its own intellectual property. What’s more, with their previous work-for-hire experiences spanning the healthcare and education sectors, Firnigl could incorporate lessons learned from those commercial side-quests into the company’s future output.
One key commission was aimed at stroke survivors and turned physio-therapy recovery exercises into a colourful and congratulatory gamified challenge. “That was a really cool project,” smiles Firnigl. “Stroke rehab is all about doing the same things over again. The physio therapist records themselves doing a set of moves and it makes a huge difference if the patient does them correctly.”
Using motion control consoles, Firnigl and his team created a game that helped people heal whilst having fun; using physiotherapy movements to fight a variety of in-game battles and baddies. “The game we built had lots of positive reinforcement,” he continues. “People played all the way through because they were being told ‘Well done! Amazing! Superb!’ It was a really satisfying way of delivering a really simple solution to a problem. We’ve learned from that experience and have taken it into the next three or four games that we have created.”
Firnigl’s satisfaction with the Scale Up programme and eagerness to continue his company’s upward trajectory ultimately led him to the Creative Enterprise Evolve programme. Run by Creative England, this investment readiness scheme pairs exciting new companies with a variety of guest speakers and bespoke industry mentors in order to fully prepare them for the world of investment. For Firnigl, joining this year’s cohort was another case of accepting advice, leaping into the unknown and hoping that the experience will push Nosebleed into new and exciting territory.
“I just thought ‘I’m going to jump in and do it’ because if I don’t, we could be stuck here forever. I think Scale Up – and especially Evolve – have really helped push me on mentally to be able to take things to the next level,” he says, commenting on the importance of working outside your comfort zone. Plus, realising you’re in the same boat as other creatives also struggling to scale made the whole experience more relatable: “The fact that we’re in the same room with all these people that are also on the same journey gave me that extra bit of confidence. It felt like ‘Okay, I’m not barking up the wrong tree’.”
The scheme paired Nosebleed with Interstate 3x Director and mentor Tim McSweeney who, according to Firnigl, helped hugely in getting the company’s future plans into sharp focus. “He’s really good at getting answers out of us,” he says with a smile. “We already knew the questions that we were asking ourselves, he’s just great at being like ‘Okay, now go do it.’ Mentally we’re already on our journey and we know what we want to do,” he explains. “What Evolve has really helped us with is pinpointing exactly how we are going to achieve those goals.”
t’s this added clarity that Firnigl believes has been crucial in planning the roadmap for the future of his company – all of it perfected by Evolve. “The scheme allows you to concentrate entirely on growing your business; it’s hands-down one of the best things I’ve been on,” he smiles. “It has taught us that we really need to narrow down exactly what we’re asking for, how we’re going to use the investment money, how we’re going to ask for it and what our story is,” says Firnigl. “It’s basically given us rocket fuel so we can triple what we’re already doing.”