TUCKED away in the Yass Road industrial estate, surrounded by car workshops and takeaway stores, you’ll find a three-man software start-up taking on the big boys in the world of smartphone and tablet game design.
Uppercut Games started early last year after three Canberra-based colleagues and friends – Ed Orman, Andrew James and Ryan Lancaster – decided to leave their former employer and strike out in the business world on their own.
Leaving the comfort of their jobs with an established Canberra games developer took plenty of courage, but a few factors combined to make it seem viable enough to take the leap.
Firstly, they already had the technical expertise required to create top notch gaming experiences, and had worked on several big-budget X-Box and PlayStation games in the past. And when the main design engine the men had been working with was ported over to iPhone and iPad apps, a whole new market for their skills was opened overnight.
While developing an X-box game takes millions of dollars in upfront costs and may never reclaim that in sales, an iPhone game can be done for just a few thousand dollars. If it’s popular enough, it can become something of a global phenomenon, and can recoup many times over what it cost to make.
Suddenly a more even playing field was opened in which small start-ups could compete with international software giants, and the three friends wanted to test their skills against the best.
Still, with no prior business experience and a global marketplace to trade in, they knew what they’d be up against it.
‘‘We had heaps of game development skill, but we had no business skill whatsoever. So that was the biggest risk,’’ Mr Orman said.
‘‘It was quite a risky move for us, because it’s such a big market with a lot of competition, and there’s a very small chunk of apps that are actually profitable,’’ Mr James added.
Initial hurdles proved as (seemingly) simple as superannuation, workers compensation, and trademark law – the basics of small business.
Moving to Queanbeyan and working with business consultants Capital Region BEC was crucial in helping the team find their business feet, and there was also a leg-up from the NSW Government in the form of an Interactive Media Fund grant.
Orman said their small office off Yass Road was a perfect fit for the company.
‘‘Rent in Canberra is ludicrous, especially if you’ve only got small needs like we do. We came from a studio of 45 people to just being the three of us, and we don’t need a lot,’’ he said. ‘‘And cost of living out here is cheaper, so things like getting lunch and buying office supplies and all those things – running a small business is just cheaper out here.’’
The company’s first major success came within 12 months of setting up, in the form of the first-person shooter game 'Epoch', which has enjoyed positive reviews and strong sales since its release last November.
‘It’s been doing pretty well for us, and it’s still going well. We won’t get into number of units we’ve moved, but it’s been very successful. We’re a going concern, basically,’’ Mr Orman said.
‘‘When we started up we always said, let’s compete with the largest companies we can in this space, which is why we’ve chosen a 3D game with really high-quality visuals and pick-up-and-play gameplay, because we knew that’s what we would have to do to compete.’’
Apple takes a clean 30 per cent of every app sold for their iPhones and iPads, which leaves the lion’s share for the developers, less licensing costs. It’s a potentially lucrative market, and the team at Uppercut Games are looking to stay in it for the long haul.
‘‘We’re keen to grow here for two reasons: one, we like the idea of employing more people locally, and two, we want to be able to work on more than one thing at once,’’ Mr Orman said.
‘‘Two to three years from now we hope to have four or five games out. So we’re looking for slow but steady growth.’’