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OGS 2008: How Angel Investors Can Help Your Game Business

As part of the Ontario Game Summit, Waterloo-based independent game developer Frozen North's CEO Julian Spillane discussed his company, now working on an unannounced 2009-dated Wii title, as an example of a game developer that exists thanks to the input o
Julian Spillane, CEO of Waterloo-based independent game developer Frozen North, first discussed game development at the Future Play conference in 2007, and he recently returned to Toronto to discuss his company as an example of a game developer that exists thanks to the input of an angel investor. Now working on an unannounced Wii title planned for June 2009, Frozen North has grown to a staff of ten people (with one contractor) and Spillane expressed amazement at the “many, many hurdles” his company had to pass to get where it is today. Frozen North originally began as Spillane and a group of friends after leaving high school, but the team “fizzled out” as its members went their separate ways. The second iteration of Frozen North appeared after Spillane met Gregory Brill, CEO of Infusion Angels, who spoke at the (now defunct) Toronto Independent Games Conference -- a session covered by Gamasutra. Recalled Spillane, "After he spoke he asked me if I knew anyone who was working on anything exciting, as he was looking to invest. I said, 'I think I do, but let me get back to you.'" "I called up my friend and we started working on ideas and cranking out technology like crazy until had a tech demo good enough that we could sell him on. By the end of 2006 we were incorporated, and we received our first funding in 2007." On A Wing And A Prayer Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. “Originally, Greg wanted us to focus on building an MMO, or something huge like that, even though we only had two members of staff and maybe a couple more people we could call on!” Spillane said, before revealing that they invested an astonishing $50,000 into their GDC 2007 booth. “It was designed by a Broadway set designer,” he exclaimed. “I laugh when I think about it now. We made a big splash and got known, but when we got back to Waterloo, we still didn’t know what on earth we were going to do!” From that point, they liaised with Microsoft Canada, which led to developing Up & Dn, a pre-Echochrome perspective puzzler for their X07 press event, and then to the decision to develop the title in full for Xbox Live Arcade. Without going into specifics, Spillane stated that the “whole XBLA thing kind of stalled,” and that the studio shopped it around to different publishers, turning into the currently unannounced title set for release on Wii next year. Down To Earth Though he admitted he had “no idea” how he got Frozen North to where it is today, Spillane still offered welcome advice to any developer looking for investment from angels. “The important thing when dealing with anyone with money is make sure you have your expectations set out,” he explained. “MMO, virtual worlds, social networks are big things with venture capitalists and their ilk -- they promise huge user bases with constantly generating revenue, but honestly, it’s already a saturated market. We lost at least a year to following that path, because we didn’t already know what to do.” “Make sure you have a strong agreement on who owns the IP,” he continued. “We spent a lot of money and hired one of the best lawyers around -- Thomas Buscagalia -- to make sure we got a fair deal on our IP. We didn’t get to keep it, but we retain rights on any use of it, with first refusal and residuals on everything from action figures to movie rights.” “Working with angel investors can be a major benefit,” Spillane concluded. “But don’t think of them as the kind of Venture Capitalist who is going to drop $5 million in your lap and say ‘do whatever’. They’re going to drop one hundred thousand dollars, maybe two, and they’re going to work with you.”

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