Converting a Hobby into a Successful Video Games Business: Meet Craig Fletcher

My guest this week is Craig Fletcher, the founder and former Chief Exec of Multiplay.

Multiplay is a video games industry and events & online services company which has now been split into two separate businesses: the events business and the online hosting part.

If you’ve ever attended the Insomnia Gaming Festival, UK’s largest video games festival, then you might have already heard of Multiplay, which is its producer.

On today’s podcast:

  • Two businesses in one: a video games success story
  • How Twitch changed the gaming landscape
  • Multiplay’s slow, organic growth
  • Getting acquired by GAME Digital
  • What Craig would now do differently
  • Craig’s book recommendations for the curious and entrepreneurial

Links:

A video games success story

Multiplay started out because of Craig’s passion for video games. So this was a hobby-turned-business kind of adventure. Craig and his team built Multiplay organically over many years, with no funding.

Multiplay is now hugely successful. Its events business side is now a festival of all things video games attracting around 80.000 visitors with a temporary network of around 3000 PCs.

As for its online gaming section, it is now present in about 25 different countries hosting some of the biggest video games titles in the world with tens of thousands of servers online.

The Twitch innovation

One of the things that positively contributed to their success was the fact that in 2011 Twitch came along and transformed the gaming experience by making live streaming much more accessible and much more cost effective.

The result? There was an explosion of online content of events being streamed and people started streaming at home as well.

The society is rapidly changing, and for many of us the concept of watching other people play video games can sound quite alien. However, the industry is booming and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

A slow, organic growth

In the beginning, Craig took home a £12k salary, the absolute bare minimum he could get away with. Everything else the company made was reinvested in the infrastructure to keep the events growing. He had to buy a lot of hardware, and the prices were a lot higher those days.

In order to pay the bills, Craig actually ran an IT consultancy on the side.

He didn’t have a detailed cash flow P&L in mind, he just had a vision and a set of ideas. Multiplay wasn’t even a company until 1997. Craig was running events until 1994–1995 and in 2002 they launched the online hosting side.

The events business was very cyclical: he would get a lot of money in for an event, and there would be nothing more for months. The hosting business complemented the events business brilliantly, because of its recurring subscription-based revenue model.

What Craig would now do differently

In March 2015 Multiplay was acquired by GAME Digital PLC for £20 million. The transition went very well, and there was no clash of culture.

If Craig went back in time, there are a few things he would do differently:

  • Whilst it was great to grow organically in order to retain control, Craig believes that they could have done many things quicker with outside investment. He had to run an IT consultancy on the side in order to bring in revenue when he could have been working on his business 100% instead. Being funded means that you can focus better.
  • The structure of the business. Craig would now split the events and the online hosting businesses from day 1 and run different businesses in different limited companies. It was a lot harder to split the two businesses many years later.

What is Craig up to these days? He now focuses on being a business angel, investing in companies that operate particularly in the technology and creative sectors. He also helps people better understand the video games industry which is the fastest growing industry on the planet (worth $110 billion last year).

Book recommendations

There are two books that Craig wishes he had read before his 30s:

A book he read recently that made him think about how the world works and the challenges we’ve got moving forward is:

Craig recommends two more books to people who are interested in understanding that it matters more why you’re doing something than what you’re doing:

It’s far easier to buy from someone who is genuinely passionate about what they’re doing than from someone who is just doing it because they want to make quick money. Successful companies leverage this by creating the right culture to sustain their businesses moving forward.