The entrepreneur behind a company which develops ‘games for brands’ has opened up on the “soul crushing” moment the Sheffield firm was put into administration.
Tim Cooper is the founder of Team Cooper, a BAFTA-nominated agency which has recently rebranded as ‘Peek & Poke’ and produces HTML5 games for the likes of DFDS Seaways.
However the firm found itself in difficulty in 2014 when graphics software Flash – which it used to make bespoke games for clients such as the BBC, Nickelodeon and Sky – fell out of favour.
“While on the outside it might have looked like we were an up-and-coming interactive agency, the reality was we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Tim said.
“Sure, we knew how to make browser games, but did we have a long-term business plan? No. Did we have a proper marketing strategy? Not really. Were we even making a healthy profit? No, we were not.
“We carried on though, happy to let people believe what they wanted to about how ‘successful’ we were. Right up until the market shifted, delivering a proverbial kick in the balls to the business.”
The team of eight was cut back to just two, including Tim himself, as Team Cooper got to grips with the new HTML5 technology to create a new, cross-platform offering.
“The rise of mobile and social media, combined with the demise of Flash, meant that many of our clients had less budget to devote to games in their marketing,” Tim explained. “And those that did needed to ensure they worked on mobile devices as well as desktop.
“This was no small feat in the early days of HTML5, so many of them decided to hold off on browser games altogether until the technology improved.
“So, like many other interactive agencies at the time, we simply couldn’t continue as we were. We’d run out of chances to figure things out and in March 2014, Team Cooper Ltd went into administration.
“It was the most emotional, painful, soul crushing and embarrassing experience of my career. The worst part being that I had to make the whole team redundant knowing it was all my own stupid fault.
“We found ourselves with two kids to feed and a mortgage to pay with no business, no jobs and a huge pile of debt. It was s***.”
The rebooted Team Cooper spent the next couple of years shifting their focus from bespoke games to providing ready-to-go solutions which could be easily rebranded or reskinned.
“There was still work for clients to be done, and as tough as it had been for us, I didn’t want to let them down as well,” said Tim. “So we came to an arrangement with the administrators to keep trading under the Team Cooper name and a few of us continued on.
“Each of those [off-the-shelf] games have been specifically designed for re-branding with marketing campaigns in mind. They each represent 100s of hours’ worth of design and development time and through our new off-the-shelf Piknik service can be delivered for under £1,000.
“I don’t feel I’m exaggerating when I say that’s incredible value for money.”
To celebrate the launch of our new name and new website, we’re running a competition to #win a £250 Mr & Mrs Smith voucher. Play our #valentines rooftop runner for a chance to win. ??https://t.co/0VyzZURtcI pic.twitter.com/vZcJZN5CHz
— Peek & Poke Games (@PeekPokePlay) January 21, 2019
The company has since begun to see growth again with the appointment of a marketing manager in 2016 and an additional games artist and account manager in 2017. Now it feels like an appropriate time to rebrand the company’s positioning.
“Before the reboot, I felt like we sat in-between two industries. We made games, but we weren’t really a games company; we delivered digital marketing for clients, but we weren’t really a digital marketing agency,” Cooper reflected.
“I’ve realised recently that this isn’t true – or at least, not anymore. We are both a games studio and a digital marketing agency.
“Today the company is a very different beast to what it was five years ago. We have a different team and a different business model and it feels like we’ve left behind what was the old Team Cooper.
“For the past few years, still referring to ourselves as Team Cooper just hasn’t sat well with me, a bit like outgrowing an old jacket.
“I still have fond memories of what once was, but given the changes we’ve been through, it feels like the right time for that new name.”
Read Tim Cooper’s full blog about his journey with Team Cooper here.