Jelly CEO David Newstead pledges to be much bolder with game mechanics in 2023 after a cautious start for the company. He shares his insights into some of the challenges of founding a startup and issues the industry is facing.
Besides the usual operational challenges that any self-funded start-up has to face, for me/Jelly it was striking the balance of how far to push the innovation needle vs ‘playing it safe’ with our first few titles. And, on reflection, I probably mis-judged this one a tad. We were overly cautious, and these titles didn’t have the Jelly traits that we’ve built into our latest releases. This likely meant we missed the opportunity to really make a splash and set the benchmark for what operators and players can expect from Jelly titles. On the flip side, these initial games performed pretty-well and did open the door to operators that I didn’t already have relationships with, and to get the wider buy-in for our roadmap. Jelly will be much bolder with its mechanics in 2023, and this’ll allow us to make our mark and really put our stamp on things.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out?
There are a few things. Don’t plan for ‘hitting the jackpot’ on day one. It’s important to be realistic – this is a really competitive and challenging space; it’s highly unlikely you’ll strike the magic formula with your debut release or even the second or third, too (you only have to look at those game developers at the top of the tree now; success wasn’t overnight). It takes time to build up a rapport with both players and operators.
Build your brand – stamp it hard and highlight “your angle” on anything you release. Nolimit City is a great example of a developer that’s done this with its themes, and Peter and Sons is a developer that’s done this really well by way of artistic style. AvatarUX is another good example – they’ve built up a reputation through their PopWins mechanic. Become known and recognised for ‘something’.
Don’t throw the net too widely to begin with – look to build strong relationships with a handful of operators; deliver for them, and deliver well.
Focus on the skills that differentiate you. Not everything has to be done internally. Keep the jewels of the business in-house and there’s no shame in outsourcing if that means accelerating or de-risking parts of the operation.
Where do you hope to see the company five years from now?
Jelly will be an established game developer with titles that are must-haves in any operator lobby. Titles that have simply stood the test of time, sit at the top of players’ favourites lists years after release, and are instantly recognisable as a Jelly production (woven together with our own blend of skills to evolve ideas, themes and brands). Jelly’s brand will be synonymous with fun, engaging and exciting games.
How much of an issue is attracting and retaining the right staff?
Because Jelly’s a challenger to the goliaths in the industry, it can – and has been – difficult to attract staff. It can be seen as a gamble for people to join us – we’re a fledgling business but this can have benefits too, which is probably why retaining staff hasn’t been an issue yet.
We’re a small team with a mix of permanent and contract staff. That said, there’s a clear skills shortage in the industry and demand outweighs supply in some key areas. We’ve been able to retain the talent we have by giving them an entrepreneurial culture, empowering them to make decisions and with highly flexible working. I don’t give too much weight to how many hours employees punch in so long as there is no compromise on quality. There’s no ball and chain for those working at Jelly. Staff are encouraged to take the initiative.
Is increasing regulation crimping industry growth. If so, how do you tackle this?
I wouldn’t say it’s crimping growth, but it’s putting a squeeze on the industry from operators down. With operator revenues continuously under scrutiny, they’re only naturally looking to pass this on and turn to game developers to re-negotiate commercials. The purse strings are being pulled tighter, that’s for sure. That’s why many operators and developers are looking to other markets for growth. Of course, regulation doesn’t stop developers from succeeding and there’s still plenty of opportunities to explore in tightly regulated markets like the UK.