Hutch.
Backed

Backed from JUNE 2016

"From day one we were keen to build a standout culture. We asked ourselves how we could make our working lives better, whether our teams could be more responsible for their own destiny and what we could ultimately do to make better games faster. "

Hutch are the leading racing-focused mobile gaming company, home to over 50 world-class game developers, on a mission to drive innovation in the world of motorsports entertainment.

We were passionate about racing and this market had obvious opportunities. The decision to specialise is key to our success to date.

Shaun Rutland, Co-founder and CEO

Building a sustainable mobile gaming business is hard. The industry has been a graveyard for companies over the last few years and many investors, once keen on the sector, have since turned their backs on gaming altogether. A glance at the top grossing charts on the app store over the past few years illustrates how much the market continues to be dominated by a few incumbent players and how hard it is for newcomers to make inroads in the sector.

And it’s clear to see why: just breaking into the market is a challenge given the incumbents’ enormous (and distorting) marketing advantages coupled with weak app store discovery and millions of competing apps all vying for attention. Even after a breakout hit, simply keeping a game afloat remains a tricky balancing act between player retention, conversion, lifetime value and continued investment in the product. Most games simply cannot afford to offset the natural half-life of their player bases given the growing disparity between install costs and player value. And as tastes evolve and players churn, repeating this process, year after year, with success, is incredibly hard.

What excited us so much about Hutch was their focus on shifting away from such forces, concentrating the business around three core tenets - content specialism, brand and culture.

Hutch create motorsports-focused mobile games. In gaming, it’s all they do and in our view, this content specialism brings several key advantages. The first is Hutch specific: motorsports as a content area is hugely popular. It thrives on TV, on film and historically on gaming consoles but has underwhelmed on mobile. The few breakout hits that exist (e.g., CSR and Racing Rivals), although relatively successful in their own right, have struggled to maintain Top 50 charting positions despite clear interest in the genre. And because there is no dominant game or company focused on the space, it’s an area that remains relatively uncompetitive, increasing the chances of success. In our opinion, it's just a matter of time before a sustainable top 30 grossing motorsports game is developed. Backing one of the very few companies solely focused on this space is our best bet for a piece of the action when it happens.

Content specialism, in the broader sense, also brings other big advantages: games become cheaper, quicker and easier to build as game assets, shaders, physics engines etc can be reused and repurposed. Companies no longer need to bet the house on a new release as production times are reduced and smaller teams are required, limiting the risks associated with each new title. Even small companies can begin to experiment with multiple releases per year, with revenues from cheaper titles supporting and de-risking the investment that might go into a deeper, more complex and altogether more transformational game.

We were passionate about racing and this market had obvious opportunities. The decision to specialise is key to our success to date.

Shaun Rutland, Co-founder and CEO

I think of the business as a 24-7 realtime gaming service and with that comes a much greater opportunity than just making a game.

Shaun Rutland, Co-founder and CEO

Supporting games also becomes more cost efficient as art teams, marketing and UA can work more effectively across multiple titles. Importantly, companies begin to develop expertise in a space and understand first-hand, through success and failure, what it takes to build a winning game in that genre, from the core mechanics to the metagame (which is especially important in the motorsports genre since many of the failures can be attributed to poor console translations to mobile). Companies move more into the realm of games-as-a-service and away from the desperate lurch between titles. Games companies become increasingly scalable.

An important extension of this, is that a company begins to stand for something in the eyes of gamers - a genre, an art style, a game mechanic, IP - which is fundamental to developing a strong brand and a key part of Hutch’s strategy. Through this, games companies can start to develop relationships with their players at the company level and not just at the micro-product level. New releases by a business are anticipated, loyalty shown by players improves and a company’s reliance on app store featuring diminishes.

What stood out most of all about Hutch, however, was their extraordinary culture and shared sense of direction. Many gaming companies we talk to don’t feel bound by much else other than the current product the business is working on - there is no substance that binds the company together other than what’s directly ahead of it. With Hutch, that felt very different - the company is defined by its culture and not by its products. For one, many of the developers working there are petrol heads themselves and care deeply about the subject matter they’re building for, both at and outside of work. More importantly are the veins of transparency and participation that course through Hutch’s culture. Product performance, for example, is scrutinised and discussed at whole company meetings where people throughout the organisation feel comfortable asking questions or offering solutions. Shaun, the CEO, regularly informs the business what topics he’ll be discussing at upcoming board meetings and informal meetings are held every week where employees discuss other games they’ve seen and what the business can learn from them. What it all amounts to is that when products fail - which they inevitably will - the defining features of the business and why people work there remain intact, unlike businesses that are merely shells built around their products.

The
Interview

We met up with Hutch CEO Shaun Rutland to discuss motorsports, gaming and company culture

You've got one of the strongest cultures we've come across. Did it form organically or did you set out with something in mind?

From day one we were keen to build a standout culture. We asked ourselves how we could make our working lives better, whether our teams could be more responsible for their own destiny and what we could ultimately do to make better games faster. If I’m honest, it’s kind of a mystery how it all happens, but we know for sure it doesn't happen overnight, or exclusively in teams that are successful. It also happens in teams that have struggled with a particular mission.

How does it affect how you guys work and what benefits does it bring?

Our culture is a constant work in progress but at its core it’s about always being open about the good and the bad. It’s helped build a super engaged company in our mission, led to incredible staff retention, created an empowering place to work and ultimately successful games!

How have your ambitions changed since you started Hutch 5 years ago?

We went from 5 of us trying to make sense of the app stores to today, where we are 50+ staff with 8 games and growing. Being a global publisher, we cover so many things on top of the games themselves: supporting our communities, looking after our players through customer support, marketing our games to millions of players a month. I think of the business as a 24-7 realtime gaming service and with that comes a much greater opportunity than just making a game.

How has your role at Hutch changed over the years?

It’s constantly changing - my role is directly connected to the company growing. At a high level, it goes from doing everything yourself at the start to coaching a group of people who are empowered to go on and coach their own teams. I feel incredibly privileged to watch and see teams grow and succeed.

If you were to start again today, would you build a mobile gaming company?

Absolutely! There are so many exciting opportunities out there: the size of the audience is vast and there are tonnes of categories and niche interests (with big reach) to build amazing communities around. We're only scratching the surface of what we can do with freemium, communities, marketing etc and mobile is a very natural place for these new, engaging ideas to flourish.

Find that sweet spot between amazing and good enough: player tastes are changing so quickly that the perfectionists end up building the wrong product!

Shaun Rutland, Co-founder and CEO

What do you think it takes to build a successful games company today?

A core mission that is differentiated but commercially exciting… Easier said than done! You need to have genuine passion for your product, the best talent and the right opportunity.

What words of advice would you give newbie game developers?

Move incredibly quickly and learn. Build on top of the learnings - don't throw them out - and keep going. Find that sweet spot between amazing and good enough: player tastes are changing so quickly that the perfectionists end up building the wrong product!

What do you get up to outside of Hutch?

Any spare moment I spend with my family. I have two energetic boys under 6. I’m gonna learn to kite-surf this year and, at the risk of sounding like an Old Street cliche, I love skating to work on my longboard.

Find out more about Hutch, Shaun and the team at hutchgames.com