Case study

Strawdog Ltd

Investment in new product development to support a transition to an independent games publisher and subsequent office refurbishment to enable projected headcount growth

Strawdog Limited (Strawdog) is a Derby-based independent games developer whose first involvement with the University was through new business incubation support some 15 years ago. Prior to the business’ engagement with Invest to Grow, Strawdog operated as a ‘work for hire’ games developer, effectively dependent on third party projects. Faced with an increasingly competitive and global market, the company decided to transition to developing its own games and becoming an independent games publisher with a focus on wholly-owned IP and licensed products.

Why engage with Invest to Grow?

Strawdog was awarded Invest to Grow funding to develop a new product called Times Table Adventure - an immersive maths strategy game for children, parents and teachers. The project resulted in the successful development of the game, which won the ‘Best Educational Game’ award at The Independent Games Association (TIGA) awards and led to the creation of five jobs.

To support the firm’s expansion and revenue growth, Strawdog made a second application to Invest to Grow to fund essential refurbishment work and to create modern flexible workspace at the business’ new HQ building (c1750 Grade 2* Georgian building) on Friar Gate in Derby city centre. The refurbishment of the building will facilitate Strawdog’s medium/long term growth plans, including an expansion to 30+ full-time employees over the next few years.

Outside image of Strawdog head office

What has been the impact of Invest to Grow?

The Invest to Grow funding award came at a pivotal moment in Strawdog’s development and directly supported its transition to an in-house game developer and publisher. It enabled the business to divert members of the team away from delivering its previously core ‘work for hire’ activities and develop its own product: the Times Table Adventure. The new game was well received by the industry. Paul Smith, Managing Director & Co-founder of Strawdog, explained:

“We beat some big names like Aardman Animations to win a TIGA national award for Times Table Adventure. The award showed the quality of the product.”

Paul Smith also highlighted the importance of the Invest to Grow support in winning the award:

“If we hadn’t had the Invest to Grow funding we wouldn’t have made the same sort of game and I don’t think it would have got the same recognition.  Developing the product helped us hone our offering, raised our profile and gave us real credibility in the market place.”

The Invest to Grow funding also delivered long term technical innovations and productivity benefits for Strawdog. Paul Smith explained:

“During the making of Times Table Adventure we built a user interface tool that enabled programmers and artists to work together.  This unblocked a key technical issue and enabled significant productivity gains.  We’re still using that tool today.” 

From a skills perspective, Paul Smith also highlighted the importance of Invest to Grow’s support in helping the company’s shift to in-house games production.

“There were a couple of employees we took on back at that point who I don’t think we would have taken on or we would have been more cautious about taking on without Invest to Grow support.  They had particular skillsets [artists, animators and programmers] that we needed at the time.”

Strawdog has always had a strong relationship with the University of Derby, however, the Invest to Grow programme has helped cement that relationship. Paul Smith highlighted the value of the University’s graduates now working at Strawdog and the importance of the firm’s relationship with the University. He commented

“Games Development is such a fast-moving industry, it’s been really good to be able to bring in a number of graduates from the University of Derby.  We’ve been here for 15 years and myself and my business partner don’t come from Derby.  We’re still here because of the University’s pull.” 

The Invest to Grow support for the refurbishment of Strawdog’s new city centre HQ has been a critically important enabler for the firm’s ongoing growth and commitment to Derby. The firm has now grown to 16 full time equivalent (FTE) members of staff and has plans to have 30+ employees on-site within the next 12-24 months. Paul Smith highlighted the paucity of suitable city centre premises, the attractiveness of the city centre location from a recruitment perspective and the additional flexible and modern space to allow on-going recruitment. All of which was critically important given the firm’s recent joint venture with Danish independent publisher ‘Tactile Entertainment’ to create a successful series of mobile puzzle games based on ‘Simons Cat’ (Endemol).

“The new office is helping us build the correct infrastructure for the team.  The alternative would have been to split the team over multiple locations.  Now we’ve got the whole team under one roof, which is good for teamwork and communication.”

Strawdog is clear that Invest to Grow has been critically important in enabling the business’ repositioning as a games publisher. Paul Smith stated:

“Invest to Grow has definitely helped us to accelerate our growth. It helped us get to where we are today by hiring the right people and having the confidence to bring those people on board. It also provided some key funding to enable us to deliver our strategic priorities, and has helped us to become fully focused on a single IP, become a publisher and cut our dependency on other products.”

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