Team Aozora starts at starting a startup

Team Aozora

Starting a games company requires expertise, ideas, money and courage. In this feature founding member of Team Aozora Ltd, Ivan McCloskey, gives an insight into their start up and what happens if you get onto Enterprise Ireland’s Frontiers Programme. You can stay informed of all things Team Aozora via their new subreddit (the paint is still wet) and Twitter feed.

Ahoy-hoy. I’ve been asked to write an article covering the following topics:

  • My experiences forming and running a game development start-up.
  • Our experiences going from being a bunch of creative, sex gods to cold hearted business sharks via the use of front-end integrated solutions, synergistic strategies and hyper-dynamism.

If we have time before I go to bed, I’ll visit upon my experiences on Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers (Phase 2) programme. If you don’t know what the programme is go have a read here and then come back. Now scratch your left arm. Now check your phone again. Right, let’s begin…

Just to be clear, French isn’t my first language, so forgive any mistakes.

I’ll need to give a wee bit of backstory so that you can see how we’ve progressed over the last 9 months.

Who or what are Team Aozora Ltd?

This project began in a dappled park in the centre of Berlin way back in the heady days of summer 2013. Whilst trying to work on a script outline, a completely different game idea popped into my head. This was the spark that lead to this weird Team Aozora journey into weirdness, elation, stress and teamwork.

10+ years previous to the park brainwave, I had left the rainy shores of Ireland to pursue a career in videogames and erotic hand modelling. Moving through numerous flats, cities and countries I joined world class development studios and worked on a bunch of million selling games. I also encountered some companies that were completely [content removed – Ed].

These experiences made me realise that I had the skills, knowledge and determination to try it for myself. I didn’t want to make dull, ‘me-too’ products for other people.

Let’s be honest, does anyone really get into the games industry to make free-to-play manipulators disguised as games? Well, congratulations if you did, (I’m happy for you) but that’s not what floats our boat.

A lot of our team have worked on quite a few million selling games and it was time for us to put up or shut up; we needed to unleash our own games onto the world.

aozora-dreamsDon’t be afraid to chase your dreams (c) Perry Bible Fellowship


Back to Berlin. I put out the call to friends and colleagues and began to recruit allies to the Team A cause. I wanted talented, like-minded developers to help me form the initial bones of Team Aozora. Weirdly, some people said ‘yes’.

As a quick guide to what we we’re about, one unofficial mission statement we use is:

“Offbeat, irreverent videogames for discerning gamers”

Or to put it simply: “We make games” (…yeah don’t bother, The Behemoth already nabbed that tagline).

All of us here at Team A Towers share a desire to make something special and to that end we’re aiming big. ‘Mickey Rooney’ big. Together we have the expertise, industry experience and stupidity to attempt something quite ambitious.

We want to stick our metaphorical flag in the ground, rip open our shirts and scream to the world “Here we are! Play our sex-filled, tentacle laden pachinko games!”
(Note to potential investors: we are not currently making pachinko games)

At this juncture you might be saying “Ivan,

…how can you possibly achieve such a feat with zero money?!?”
…please send me some photos of the team. Waist down.”
…just make a free-to-play puzzle game gosh darnit!”
…you’re an idiot, get to the point.”

Good stuff. Quite insightful. I appreciate your honesty. Let me address some of these.

We currently have no publisher or backer money. Our team are all volunteers drinking the same special brand of kool-aid as us. We work from our kitchens and bedrooms. Half our super team are UK game industry veterans whose experience ranges from the Sinclair Spectrum all the way to PS4 and everything in-between (Game Boy crew reprazent’).

aozora-printingpressimage: Some of the team working on level layouts.

Since moving back to Ireland in November 2013 I’ve continued to act as madame ringleader

on a recruitment drive to add Irish talent to our Team. We have a floating total of approximately 15 people. The core is ~8 people. Think of us as the pasty, non musical version of The Polyphonic Spree.

For the last few months I’ve have been absorbed in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers (NF) Phase 2 programme.

On Phase 1 there were 900 applications.
On Phase 2 it’s down to the top 150 startups in Ireland.

Acceptance onto New Frontiers Phase 2 has given us guidance on the business and a small stipend to spend on development. It’s been an enlightening (but full-on) experience. Learning what’s entailed in running a startup (via mentoring and workshops) and what is expected when dealing with customers, other businesses and potential investors. Some of this is clearly not super applicable to game devs but the principles are sound.

My job has been to manage all these concerns, take care of the day to day practicalities of running a team and (occasionally) do some design work. I’ve been ’busy’. Luckily I’m ginger so I can’t be out in the sun even if I wanted to.

The business issues (how do we eventually pay wages?!?!) are a classic problem and one that we’re adapting to; creativity versus commercial concerns.

Our team juggles jobs and real life with the demands of mistress Team Aozora. In time we’ll be going after other forms of investment and to that end I’ve been planning our Kickstarter campaign 15 months in advance. Yep; I’m sad like that. If you see me in the pub and want to start the party and get crazy; ask me about my spreadsheet. Like any megalomaniac worth his salt I have non-kickstarter fallback plans too.

Backed by this newfound business knowledge, our belief in what we’re attempting is stronger than ever. We’ve taken all our wacky ideas and fleshed them out into a cohesive grand design and adapted our company roadmap (with some diversions) to enable us to get to our destination (and beyond).

Our games are exciting us and we hope to excite you too. We need to keep our resolve, work hard, get some ulcers and go after funds to help expedite our vision to the world. Contact me if you want to send us some money – no questions asked.

Over the next few months you’ll discover more about our plans and in turn you can help us shape our wonderful games, the first of our which arrives in 2015. We still need to bolster our design and code teams, so if you’re interested get in touch.

*drops microphone*
*trips over cord*

Bio: Ivan is a lifelong gamer. A designer by trade, he enjoys writing about himself in the 3rd person, listening to various forms of electronic music and staring at individual blades of grass. Despite evidence to the contrary he is quite professional. His handle on the forums is kyotokid (yes, that one).