Whitepot Studios Co-Founder Vicky Potts On Levelling Up Her Company and Creating Games That ‘Spark Joy’

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Words and interview by Simon Bland 

Bootstrapping your business can sometimes start with a tricky compromise. Before you can focus your time and energy on the intellectual property that’ll hopefully help make you a household name, you first have to pay the bills. Often, this involves selling your services to others to acquire enough financial overhead to buy yourself the precious breathing room needed to explore your own interests — and to successfully make the leap — a strong foundation is needed. It’s a rites-of-passage that many start-ups go through and one that has led Whitepot Studios to the Evolve programme.  

Founded by developers Adam Whiteside and Vicky Potts (hence the name Whitepot Studios), the company set up shop at a time when their native Northern Ireland was devoid of games studios. Their initial encounter with start-ups came after a final year group project at university secured them (and two others) some additional funding to bring a Bluetooth-beacon-based museum app into the real world.   

“That spin-out group concept was our first taste of doing a start-up-type project,” remembers Potts, speaking to us part way through her time on Evolve, Creative UK’s support and mentoring scheme for high-potential, screen-based businesses. However, recalling this first business, Potts is quick to point out that “the world wasn’t ready for it but we weren’t ready for the world either.”  

After some of their previous collaborators decided to leave and pursue full-time graduate work, Whiteside and Potts weren’t quite ready to give up working for themselves just yet. “We’d always had a real interest in games, and, thanks to the final year project, we now had some experience in running a company. Everything felt like it was aligning so we thought to ourselves, ‘okay, let’s try and make our own games, we’ll do a game jam together and if it goes well, we’ll set up Whitepot for real.’ We essentially did that in 2016 and Whitepot Studios has been going ever since.” 

This tenacious DIY attitude was needed. At the time, Potts remembers that Northern Ireland’s reputation as a hub of video game development was very much still in its infancy. “There were no larger game studios in Northern Ireland and there were no companies here that we could join” she insists. “We had no choice but to make our own; it was either make your own studio or move.” Cut to today and thankfully the duo’s local scene is much healthier than it was: “There are so many different studios here now, including ourselves. The opportunities are really good.”  

 This long-overdue infrastructure change laid the groundwork perfectly for Whitepot Studios to really make itself known within the local industry. By balancing work-for-hire commissions with their own IP creation, this small team plan on giving back to an industry they hold dear. “In terms of our own IP, we like to try and infuse it with that element of ‘would we enjoy playing this ourselves?’ and ‘is it fun?’” says Potts. “Our long-term plans are to have two arms of the business; Whitepot client work, where we make and fix games for other studios which helps us pay the bills and feed our more creative side — almost like a ‘Whitepot Labs’ arm of the business where we make our own experimental things and really see what works.”  

 It’s this dual destination that has been guiding Whitepot Studios through their creative journey so far — and it’s already steered them to success. Visit their online portfolio and you’ll find a selection of colourful and innovative releases, with their most recent, the festively-titled Ho-Ho-Home Invasion, released back in 2020. “It’s kind of like a Metal Gear Solid-esque Santa adventure where he’s creeping about a house, delivering presents,” explains Potts of their seasonal stealth adventure. “It felt like a no-brainer and a really cool concept where you get the idea immediately. That is the kind of game that we want to create.”  

This goal ultimately led Potts and Whiteside to Evolve, a support programme that pairs start-ups with industry mentors to help prepare them for raising finance and company growth. For Potts, the experience has been professionally eye-opening: “We went into running our own company straight out of university and were kind of winging it as we went along so it’s been really nice to see people in a similar place to ourselves, have a camaraderie within that group and be alongside peers going through the same thing you are at the same time,” she says. “Being able to lean on the mentors, get advice and learn from people who have already done it before has been invaluable. It felt like a plus for us to be on this programme — like it would really boost our profile.”  

By forging a personalised relationship with their dedicated mentor, communications expert and entrepreneur Cecilia Thirlway, Potts and Whiteside have been able to access advice that runs deeper than that offered on other, similar courses. “She’s been really helpful,” admits Potts. “She’s someone I can speak candidly to and the more she gets to know us, the more personalised her feedback can be. She knows how to deliver advice in a way that makes sense to me because we have a rapport,” she adds. “It’s definitely been really useful.”  

Evolve has also provided a key opportunity to break away from comfort zones, something that’s particularly useful for a team that’s used to working remotely. “Post-pandemic, Evolve has forced us into a lot of presentation and networking situations which we’d almost shied away from a wee bit after two years spent working in the house on our own and not really talking to anybody. It’s forced us to return to the real world.” What’s more, it’s also helped bring them closer to valuable connections in an environment that mutually benefits both parties: “You can have opportunities to meet people at events and conferences but oftentimes there’s so much noise it can be difficult to filter out what you actually need to dedicate your attention to,” she reasons. “This programme filters that out for you and easily signposts you to who you want to talk to a lot more quickly.”  

By working towards building a strong foundation for their company, Whiteside and Potts look set to give back to an industry that’s clearly close to their hearts. “I want people to see Whitepot Studios and think ‘oh yeah, they worked on a game that I love’ and to have created something that sparked joy amongst players — because, at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about,” smiles Potts. “Nothing beats someone coming up to you at a trade show and seeing that something you made has made other people happy.”