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Dunedin-based mobile game developer Runaway is going through a major growth phase with the relaunch of ‘Splash: Underwater Sanctuary’. It’s the latest milestone in a stellar ‘weightless’ export journey.

Few people in the gaming and tech industries would make a lifestyle decision not to live and work in the tech hub of San Francisco. But Dunedin-based entrepreneur Tim Nixon says he chose to remain to the southern city and grow his Runaway Play business there because it lets him focus on the creative side of developing.

A graduate of the University of Otago Masters of Entrepreneurship in Computer Gaming just on a decade ago, 33-year-old Nixon has quickly made his mark on the industry.
November 2015 marked six years since he founded his business and went on to create two hit games – Flutter and Splash for PC, iPhone and Android. In the process the company has grown from four employees to a team of 20 primarily based in Dunedin, with one person in San Francisco and two in Europe.

Nixon says his specialty is the inception and production of games inspired by the real world.

“It started with productions ranging from kitchen skills training to physics and hairdressing, and led me to my current position with NHNZ (formerly Natural History New Zealand) producing games in partnership with global brands such as National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund.”
(Runaway is a division of NHNZ, a world-renowned factual television production company.)

He aspires to make great games that make people better, and that’s one of the reasons he decided to remain in this country.

Nixon’s other workplace passion is to create high performing teams by developing workplaces that employees are excited to be part of.

Connecting with fans
Runaway Play games Splash and Flutter are popular with millions of users around the world, predominantly in the US. However, in September 2015 Runaway began self-publishing to connect the brand more directly with fans. That means customer support, marketing and quality assurance sit in the main Dunedin office alongside the developers who create the games.

“We can now take a holistic approach to building a great gaming brand,” Nixon explains.

The self-publishing expansion has got off to a great start with the relaunch of Splash: Underwater Sanctuary – achieving a 600 percent increase in players and revenue worldwide.

Splash, which lets players become reef caretakers charged with repopulating a diverse ecosystem while learning real-life facts about species, was launched in April 2015. In mid-November it was re-released with nearly every aspect of the game overhauled.

Nixon says the team achieved their goals of receiving a Google feature and matching the very strong retention metrics of their flagship title, Flutter, a game where players care for the rainforest and nurture butterflies through their lifecycle.

The 600 percent increase in daily active users of Splash during relaunch week is a result of the Google feature combined with efforts of Runaway’s new marketing team.
Meanwhile, Nixon says Dunedin has huge potential. “It’s very much possible to build great products and ship them to the world from here.”

The leadership team has recently been expanded through the hiring of two new senior producers – Zoe Hobson in Dunedin (strong film and TV production background) and Maya Litani in the US (ten years in mobile game design and production).

Nixon says self-publishing means Runaway will be recruiting up to eight new staff including designers, developers and customer support people early this year. He hopes the company will employ up to 30 staff by the end of the year.

Away from work Tim is often training; he completed the New York Marathon in November 2015. He has a love of music and particularly enjoys live gigs. And, not surprisingly, he loves playing digital games!


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