Tell us about your career journey so far, and why you set up Peek & Poke?
My first “proper” job was at an e-learning company. I was there for a couple of years, and while there met my now wife, Emma.
Following that I had a short stint as a PHP developer, but that was horrible, so I went freelance to allow me to focus my time working on more creative Flash-based projects.
That’s how “Team Cooper” (as it was once called) came to be. It was first setup for me to work as a freelancer, but over the following 17 years it’s grown and morphed and regenerated into something entirely different.
Basically, I’ve been messing around making browser games for the past two decades so that I could hide from the real world and avoid getting another “proper” job. Somehow, nobody seems to have found me out yet.
What does a typical week look like for you?
There isn’t really a typical week as priorities tend to change through the year from month to month and as we’ve grown bigger my role has evolved from one thing to another.
Right now, about a third of my time in spent supporting production activities, be it delivering client projects or working on improvements to our game engines and systems. The rest is divided between operations, business strategy, finance and drinking coffee, lots of it.
What’s your favourite part of what you do, what makes you get up in the morning?
This is a weak answer but, err… all of it?
Like any business our day-to-day work has its ups and downs. There’s always a bit of an emotional roller coaster within any creative project life-cycle, in that it starts off being exciting, gets a bit difficult and tiring in the middle, becomes stressful towards the end as launch date approaches, then finishes in joy (or relief) once it goes live.
I feel like right now, we as a team have managed to carve out a nice niche for ourselves that fits each of our skill-sets and interests well (Perhaps the rest of the team might tell you that’s complete bollocks, but I don’t think that’s the case). I’m a systems builder, so obviously I love building our games and business processes but I’m also a producer, so I find bringing talented people together to build something new really fulfilling. These days I don’t need to be that involved in the parts of the business that didn’t suit me as very well (I REALLY don’t like writing proposals & pitches).
<cliché>I’m proud to say that I get to work with a team of fun, clever people on projects we enjoy. It’s not very hard to get up to that in the morning.</cliché>
Any advice for aspiring game developers or company directors out there?
I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me the best part of a decade to learn this expensive/painful lesson properly. But here goes…
If you’re running a business you’re actually running two businesses. There’s the one that does the thing you do – making games, building widgets, providing services or whatever. And then there’s the other one that markets and sells the first. Both of these businesses are as important as each other, and both need equal amounts of effort and attention. Sadly, a lot of small businesses just concentrate on the first one because they don’t know, or believe in, the importance of the second.
Tell us about you? What keeps you busy when you’re not making games and running a business? Is there even time for anything else?
I’m married to my lovely wife Emma, and we have two teenage kids, Stanley & Kirsty. The three of them tend to keep me on my toes much of the time, but when we’re not hanging out, going for a walk somewhere, or arguing over Mario Kart on the Switch, I try to spend as much of my remaining free time climbing.
I first discovered bouldering in 2015 after a lifetime of doing no exercise at all. Slowly, and much to my surprise as I’m still scared of heights, I have realised; I am a climber. I progressed from bouldering to indoor top-roping, then lead-climbing, and finally ended up joining the Peak Climbing Club and got into trad-climbing too. I love all of it.
Climbing for me is a little bit about edging outside my comfort zone, both physically and mentally, but mainly it’s about the feeling I get from movement up the wall or rock and the satisfaction of having figured out a particular route. Much of the time, getting to the top is about understanding the route and the sequence of moves needed to unlock a climb. It’s basically puzzle solving with your body.
When I’m not climbing, or when I’ve just finished climbing, I also enjoy sampling the delights of Sheffield’s craft beer scene. Many of Sheffield’s best real-ale pubs, the Peek & Poke offices, and The Climbing Works are all located a couple of miles from my house, so I’m never far away from all the most important things in my life.
What is your current / all-time favourite game?
I’ve always been a big Nintendo fan and loved all the Mario games. I enjoyed Mario Odyssey a few years ago and also it’s been great introducing that world to both my kids too. I’d say the game that sticks in my mind as my all-time favourite though was probably Rare’s Blast Corps on the N64. It was a mad combination of driving game, beat-em-up and puzzle solving all mashed together. I wish they’d make a follow up on modern console. That’d be awesome!
Lastly and most importantly, what is your zombie apocalypse plan?
I’m not sure I want to give too much away on this. Em and I have perhaps spent a bit too much time thinking about apocalypse survival scenarios (Yay, Brexit!) and when the end of days does come, I don’t want anyone else thwarting our 21-step doomsday protocol.
A couple of years ago however, we moved home and this has changed my thoughts on our approach slightly. The estate we live on is a, *ahem* gated community, so after making sure all the fencing was secure (dispatching any stray zombified neighbours along the way), I’d probably spend my days patrolling the perimeter and using a sharp knife on a stick to puncture the brains of any unwanted visitors from a safe distance, through the bars.
One thing I certainly would NOT do is hole up in the Winchester waiting for the whole thing to just blow over. That’s just plain silly and highlights poor imagination and/or planning skills on your part my friend.