Power up! How Team Cooper took its web games to the next level

26 Apr, 2017

Tech North caught up with Team Cooper’s Tim Cooper and Cari Kirby at the Visual Media Conference, a free to attend one-day event organised by CDi a specialist interest group of the BPIF. Kirby is one of Tech North’s Northern Voices – check out her bio here.

Flash gaming sent office workers’ procrastination levels through the roof in the late 2000s. Responsible for some of those lost hours, Sheffield-based Team Cooper has been developing bespoke browser-based games for brands since 2006.

The self-proclaimed ‘digital amusements agency’ saw initial success. “Marketers wanted something fun to put onto their website and spent a reasonable amount of money on gaming experiences unique to them,” says Director and Digital Producer Tim Cooper. “We did that for a few years and it went quite well.”

Things began to change when Flash began its slow demise. Smartphones and the rise of Apple’s iPad helped popularise app-based gaming on mobile platforms, which appealed to casual gamers. And the proliferation of social media meant that marketing budgets had to be stretched across multiple channels, leaving less money for bespoke desktop titles.

“It was a perfect storm of things coming together that meant people didn’t want Flash games anymore,” says Cooper. “App development was an option, but we didn’t move into it because we enjoyed creating web-based games.”

Like battling a stubborn end-of-level boss, the studio found itself up against it with no walkthrough to hand. Team Cooper downsized and spent the next few years considering its future while it saw where the market was headed.

Five alive

The future arrived in the form of HTML5, Flash’s successor. The latest version of the ubiquitous markup language allows Team Cooper to develop games once and instantly deploy them to multiple platforms. That’s anything from desktop web browsers to iOS; Android; tablets at conferences; arcade cabinets; and even augmented reality headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

For marketers aiming for maximum reach, this one-size-fits-all approach helps lower the cost of barrier to entry. Team Cooper offers bespoke game development services for brands aiming for maximum originality, but the company’s white-labelled offerings are especially interesting.

By opting for the latter, brands can get a ready and playable game that features their logo, assets, color palette, and more, at a budget-conscious price point. Inspired by existing games, their mechanics are unoriginal and will be familiar to anyone who’s spent a few hours playing endless flyers like Flappy Bird, Frogger-esque platformers, or Candy Crush-styled puzzlers.

Team Cooper's Bunny Boost

However, Marketing Manager Cari Kirby says that familiarity brings an advantage. “People are already playing and enjoying HTML5 games, so if you can put your brand front-and-centre in one, it works really well,” she says. “We’re seeing that more companies want a connection with their audience in a more meaningful way, and our engagement figures show that our games do that.”

Kirby points to a rooftop runner called ‘Level Up’, customized for Dunlop Adhesives. The game was launched and integrated into a marketing campaign two weeks after the company asked for a quote. Promoted in a newsletter and on Facebook, the game was played by each user for an average of 16 minutes and replayed 20 times when it launched in November 2016.

“Their Facebook page exploded with comments about it,” she says. “They’d never done a game before and it went a bit mad for them!”

Steely determination

Being based in the North for more than a decade has given Team Cooper, which has three permanent staff, distinct advantages. One of those is being able to tap into a local independent games development community when hiring freelance developers and designers to cope with demand.

“There’s a great pool of talent in Sheffield that we can draw from,” says Cooper. “Having a network of people in the same digital space who have the same problems and opportunities that can act as a sounding board is great.

“There’s a real sense of people coming together and supporting each other, for the benefit of businesses and the city.”

Kirby saw the advert for her role on Sheffield Digital, an association set up to support the city’s digital industries. Having taken time out to support her young family, she accepted it when she was offered the chance to work remotely from home.

“Being able to work part-time actually brought me back into the workplace when I was out of it as I couldn’t make it work where I was before,” she says. “Having that opportunity to work flexibly on a part-time basis has been great for me.”

Team Cooper exercised caution while remaining forward-thinking to adapt to an evolving market. For a digital agency in the North, you could say that it’s played the game perfectly.

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