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nDreams' Patrick O'Luanaigh

The digital firm's CEO talks Facebook, Home and pursuing innovation on new platforms

While many companies find an angle - platform or genre - and focus efforts into a single product, Farnborough, UK-based nDreams has taken a different approach in the past couple of years, experimenting in a variety of sectors, both self-publishing and working with partners.

Here, CEO Patrick O'Luanaigh explains why that method has worked in the past, how the various digital platforms have developed, the company's learnings from working on Facebook, and why a greater focus is likely to come in the future. Why was nDreams started?
Patrick O'Luanaigh

Well, we've been around for about three and a half years now - I was formerly the creative director at Eidos, but I really wanted to set up my own studio, it's something I've always wanted to do. So I set up nDreams really to try and make innovative, different games.

What we tend not to do is focus on the big traditional games - we tend to work around the edges of the space, with brands or TV companies or film directors; or publishing on new platforms such as PlayStation Home; or bringing alternate reality games to console.

We work around the edges, and everything we've done so far has been around those lines. Our biggest success so far has been a game called Xi for Sony, which is a big alternate reality game in Home and has had three million visits in three months. We're really pleased with that.

We've also been doing some brand stuff - including a game with Lewis Hamilton for Reebok, some things with Crunchie, and a 3D Facebook game for a dance movie.

But we're also doing more and more publishing - we've published more and more apartments and items in PlayStation Home, as well as our first Facebook game, called Spirit of Adventure which is aimed at women. It's got great narrative, great puzzles, which open up week-by-week.

And we've been growing slowly - we're up to 25 people, we're self-funded, we're independent, we've never had any venture capital. We're exploring the new digital spaces that have opened up, so we're in a situation now where we're starting to focus a lot more. We've tried a lot of things out, but now we have a really big focus on Home - we see it as a growing platform in its own right, somewhere you can actually create a proper, big game, rather than just using it to promote PS3 or PSN games.

We've got some very cool things along those lines that we're working on; and we're also doing some very cool things - some very different kinds of games on PSN and XBLA. We think those are very exciting ideas, that we're buzzing to tell people about.

So - we're looking at new IPs, more and more publishing, and we'll continue to do some work-for-hire on some of the new platforms as well. Many companies, especially when starting up, tend to focus on a specific thread - although nDreams has dabbled... Was that an intentional idea to not get bogged down in one particular platform or play style?
Patrick O'Luanaigh

I think there's an argument that until you know exactly what you want to do, you should try a few things out and see what works - particularly when there are new spaces opening up. That was where we came from - the digital platforms were all very new, the App Store and Home, lots of new things coming on all the time.

We didn't feel we knew which one was going to be the winner - Facebook was taking off, but we didn't just want to dive into that, we wanted to play around. We're into doing innovative things - that's something that grabs our attention - but that precludes us from doing lots of things on the same platform... we'd get bored quickly.

That's not to say that if we find something hugely successful we won't focus on it, but we haven't really found that until now, so the idea was to explore different areas and try things out - discover which platforms were the most commercial, which we can make money on.

It seems quite a sensible model - if you want to go dig gold, you drill lots of holes and see which seam is the richest... and then focus on that. We're now moving into a phase where we've got a much better idea of where we want to go, so we're focusing more on a couple of different areas.

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