Hachette buys mobile game company Neon Play

Hachette buys mobile game company Neon Play

Hachette has bought mobile games development studios Neon Play in a “substantial” acquisition. Hachette c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson has said the acquisition “could be one of several” for the company in the app space.

Neon Play was founded by co-owners Oli Christie and Mark Allen in Cirencester in 2010 and to date has created over 30 games, including Paper Glider, Flick Football and Panic Traffic London, attracting over 60m downloads. 

The studio, which has won 20 business awards including the Queen’s Award for Innovation, will be tasked with "creating, developing and marketing new mobile games” as a standalone business under the Hachette UK umbrella.

Although terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, Hely Hutchinson said it was a "substantial acquisition designed to lead to substantial revenues”, and was also a "serious first step" for Hachette in a bid to make its business "more digital”.

Referring to the mobile gaming industry as "complementary" to the book industry, Hely Hutchinson anticipates that trade and educational publishers will become “more like 50% digital” within the next five to 10 years. He told The Bookseller mobile gaming is “part of the future of the book industry”, with games the biggest and fastest growing part of the app market, while e-books, currently in decline, are “so similar to print books … they barely count as digital objects”.

"Most things digital are growing and therefore in order to make our business vibrant, and continue to be vibrant, we need to develop more digital dimensions," he said. "This is our first step, it probably won't be the last step, but it’s a first step in making our business more digital."

He added: "It’s something where we are very much on the front foot. E-book sales are not declining because people don’t like digital things. They are declining because there is less discounting in the market. So that is the main reason why e-book sales are lower this year. In fact e-books are so similar to print books that they barely count as digital objects. What people are really looking for with the digital world is more interactivity. So communicating with each other on social networks and playing games, you’re not just looking at something, you’re directly involved. And that’s where we want to be.”

Christie, Allen and their team at Neon Play will continue to be based in Cirencester, and, while sharing some finance and HR functions with the rest of Hachette, it is not expected that any editorial or marketing staff will be seconded to join the team in Cirencester. 

The company will develop both books-related games and standalone games for Hachette, as well as undertaking work on apps that have nothing to do with games. The Neon Play team will report to Richard Kitson, commercial director and head of digital for Hachette UK. Hely Hutchinson, Kitson and Pierre de Cacqueray of Hachette join the board of Neon Play.

Hely Hutchinson (left) said that conversations with Christie and Allen had shown him their efforts with apps to date were “somewhat amateurish”.

“They know infinitely more than we do about the app market and how to make an app work, and I think the skills and knowledge they have at Neon Play will help us, for example with a cookery book app or an educational app that actually has nothing to do with games, so I see the acquisition as taking us several steps forward in various parallel relevant directions,” he said.

Hachette has already seen success in the games market with New Star Soccer in May, a game and a book all in one, that was produced in partnership with game developers New Star Games and Insight Studios, and contributed to by award-winning children’s authors The2Steves (Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore). It hit 35,000 paid downloads in its first week and charted in Apple's top 10 apps. “When I say we haven’t done well, we’ve done reasonably,” commented Hely-Hutchinson. “But there is an awful lot more to do.”

Hely Hutchinson said only “a relatively small number” of Hachette books would be gamified, "no more than the number that get made into movies or TV programmes”, equating to between five and 10 book-related games a year. Children’s books of every age and science fiction books will be a particular focus, following feedback from “dozens” of authors who have "regularly discussed with us creating more digital dimensions for their books”.

Hely Hutchinson said the mobile game market “is not for all books,” because "they have to be big enough – have a big enough market – to justify the potential investment, which is quite large.” 

Discussions with authors and agents whose books are candidates for gamification would start “from scratch,” Hely Hutchinson said. "Even if we happen to have a very broadly worded contract we would never go to authors and agents ‘we’ve got these rights, we’re going to exploit them’. We would always want to go to the author and agent and discuss the whole thing with them whether the games dimension is the sort of thing they want to do and we would start the terms discussion from scratch.

 "It could potentially have quite a big impact in terms of additional streams of revenues and profits in itself," he added. "We see it as the first step, once we feel we are more knowledgeable and confident in the area we may make further acquiitions. The knowledge we gain will also help us in our own day to day. 

"I would see both actual games companies and app developers more generally as potential markets. They aren’t the only things in the digital world of course but I think as more and more of our business becomes digital we will be able to devote more resources to researching the right steps to take. 

"We will continue to be a book publisher in every sense but there will be digital dimensions, sometimes linked to books and sometimes not.

"We see ourselves as having a role of taking, sensitively, creative people’s work to market and turning it into money – income – for creative people. It doesn’t mean we at Hachette can do everything, we are not of the scale to be producing Hollywood-style movies, but there are some things we can do where the investment level is affordable, which will widen our offer to our traditional author base and also give us potential new products where we can gain a very good understanding and do the job properly."

Christie, c.e.o. of Neon Play, said: “Mark and I have huge ambitions for the growth of Neon Play and I’m delighted that, in Hachette, we’ve found an owner who is as enthusiastic about our business as we are. In fact, we think it’s the perfect meeting of minds.

“We’re very much looking forward to creating a number of new innovative, mass-market games and, on occasion, working with some of Hachette’s authors on their ideas for interactive content."

Read The Bookseller's editor Philip Jones on how Hachette's acquisition of Neon Play could be a game-changer.