“Investment opens up a lot of doors,” says Tomas Rawlings, Chief Executive Officer at Bristol’s independent development studio Auroch Digital. Formed back in 2010, his team have spent the last decade putting their gaming skills to use on a number of work-for-hire projects whilst developing their own bespoke titles. Partnering with a range of companies, their back-catalogue spans PC adventures, mobile releases and physical desktop games. If you’re an avid gamer, you might have seen their work first hand in Steam’s strategy simulation Mars Horizon or the World War II-based Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. Their screen sector success has been boosted by a number of investments, however as Rawling’s is keen to point out, that’s only part of their story: “Money only buys you time – it doesn’t solve all your problems.”
Having recently closed an investment round that’ll help them develop brand new intellectual property, Auroch’s story is a testament to the strength and potential of the UK screen sector. What’s more, with the gaming industry accounting for more than half of the country’s entire entertainment market, there’s never been a better time to invest in new companies to help them reach their full potential. It’s why Creative England has recently relaunched its Creative Enterprise Evolve scheme which provides tailored advice to high-potential screen business to help them become investor ready. With the programme currently accepting applications, Rawlings is eager to share some of his own insider tips that can help new talent level up.
“We spoke to a lot of investors, which was really helpful because they talked about what they looked for in a company,” begins Rawlings, recalling his starting point when it came to raising funds. “That allowed us to get our paperwork in order, which was key. I also attended a couple of investment events and heard people talk about the sector and ran a couple of events through Bristol Games Hub focused on investment into games companies. Here, we were able to have conversations and make presentations from which we got feedback that helped us shape our offering,” he adds, detailing his pre-prep. “Probably the best single bit of advice we received was around being really clear about how much money you want and what you’re going to do with it.”
After speaking to investors and his fellow regional developers, Rawlings’s team had the insight necessary to start assembling their pitch – a critical part of any fundraising campaign. “Practice and lots of practice,” he smiles, candidly sharing thoughts on the best way to present your proposition to potential backers. “You will almost certainly be at pitch events where there’s multiple people competing for the same pots of money. If your pitch is less slick, it’s not going to come across as well. There’s no substitute for doing it whenever you have the opportunity so it’s sharp and works better and better.” Providing some sector backstory is also an important ingredient: “Some of our investors came from the sector, some didn’t,” he says, highlighting the range of investors you may be faced with. “We devoted some of our pitch time to explaining the sector and why we think people should invest in it.”
In addition to backstory and lots of practice, there’s another factor that Rawlings says is key to grabbing the attention of lenders: speaking to what they know best. “When you’re talking to investors – especially if they’re not specific to your sector – they’re much more focused on what they do understand, which is the numbers,” he reasons. “It’s great if you’ve got lots of slides about what you’re doing and why it’s amazing but if you can’t translate that into numbers they can understand and what that’ll mean in profit – and back up those numbers – you’re going to find it much harder to persuade them to give you money,” suggests Rawlings, before hitting home a major aspect of fundraising: “at the end of the day, investors are looking for a return.”
With backing secured, successful companies can begin following through with their promises and making their pitch dreams a reality. For many, it’s a make or break opportunity to grow and push their business into exciting new territories – but as Rawlings asserts, it’s also a time where staying focused is critical. “If you run a business, you’re often bootstrapping your way up and every pound counts – then all of a sudden you’ve got money to spend. The key thing is to make sure you’re following through on what your plans for it were. You’ve got to make sure you’re not suddenly splurging,” he says. “You’ve got to use that time constructively to build up your business, structures and governance.”
Staying light on your feet in a sector that’s constantly changing is also necessary: “Our plans when we pitched were not the plans we ended up executing – we pivoted,” he reveals. With the UK’s gaming sector in a constant state of flux, the ability to be reflective to its ever changing needs and trends can keep your company afloat. It’s also something that most investors will be receptive to, as long you can explain your logic: “Ultimately, backers are investing in you as much as your business – if not more,” continues Rawlings. “If you think you should change, then you should make that argument and make those changes. It’s essential for any business but certainly creative businesses because our field moves ridiculously quickly.”
For Auroch, the process of raising finance and boosting their already-strong groundwork has been instrumental in paving the way for future success. “The value of the company has gone up quite a bit,” he tells Creative England, reflecting on the impact overhead has had on his company. “It’s allowed us to invest in new staff, new projects and ultimately add to our value. If you’ve got a good idea and a good company, then investment is often a boost. In a way, we aren’t doing anything we weren’t doing before, we’re just able to do it better, at scale and with better resources – and produce better quality as a result.”
For young companies inspired by Auroch’s journey, support schemes like Creative Enterprise: Evolve can provide invaluable mentoring and advice that could fast-track growth. “If you can get mentoring from people who have already been through the process, that helps a lot,” admits Rawlings. “It also means you make less mistakes and can learn the best ways of doing things. I think games have often been seen as a bit of a niche, under invested in sector – and maybe less attractive as a result – but in actual fact, it’s bigger than the music industry, the TV industry and the film industry,” he says of its potential for high value return. “It’s growing quite substantially and there’s huge opportunity.”
Creative Enterprise: Evolve is a unique programme that prepares high-potential screen businesses for growth capital. If you are looking to raise investment and don’t know where to start, apply for Creative Enterprise: Evolve where you can create and perfect your proposal with direct access leading experts and gain exclusive opportunities to engage with investors. Applications close 24th August.
If you are ready to apply for investment, the Creative Growth Finance Debt Fund provides vital scale up finance to the UK’s most promising creative businesses.