Dear Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition

Dear Mr Corbyn,

I write this open letter to you as a member of the Labour Party and someone who desperately wants see our beloved country heal its wounds and come together.  We both know that the policy of austerity enacted on the people of this country since 2010 has not only decimated our public services but has also driven up our national debt to unprecedented levels. Neither of these outcomes can be disputed. They are a matter of fact.

I have always believed you to be a man of truth and principle and your voting record down the years in the House of Commons proves my point. Doing the right thing by people is a cornerstone of your leadership of the Labour Party.

On the subject of truth, I found my original copies of the EU referendum campaigning documents which came through my door. The outlandish and false claims made by a Leave campaign did not fully register with me at the time, but now, with the country riven by division, it is easy to see that the claims were both dishonest and fundamentally wrong.

Within the leaflet ‘Who governs Britain?’it stated the following:-


  • The cost of membership is about £19bn gross per year’we all know that the actual net contribution is closer to less than half of that.
  • ‘The total cost on the economy of EU membership is calculated at about £190bn per year*. That equates to about £7000 per household’. The * relates to a study in 2015 by Professor Tim Congdon. We all know that the ‘cost’ to the British economy is nothing like that number, indeed we are told by the ONS and IFS that there is a net benefit to the economy from our EU membership.
  • ‘Almost all areas of our domestic policy are now controlled by the EU. The Westminster Parliament has surrendered control, even down to the level of legislation on hair-dryers, electric kettles and vacuum cleaners’. How can this claim stand up to any scrutiny, especially in light of the last few months in Parliament?
  • ‘Literally millions of people have flooded into the UK from poor European countries. This has driven wages down, property prices up, and put unsustainable burdens on housing, the NHS, roads and transport etc’. Besides the lazy use of ‘etc’ all the evidence points to the net contribution made by EU citizens living in the UK. It is both disingenuous and inaccurate to make this statement.
  • ‘The EU intends to import millions more migrants from Africa and beyond. Once these migrants are established in any EU state, they will have the right to come to Britain.’Another nebulous and wholly inaccurate statement.
  • ‘The EU intends to allow Turkey to join with its population of 75 million – all of whom will have the right to come to Britain. Turkey’s porous borders with the Middle East will mean even more illegal immigration to the UK’.

I think you will agree with me Jeremy that these claims were cunningly designed to instil fear and loathing into the hearts and minds of those who read them. I truly believe Brexit was the wrong answer to the right question. The real question being asked was ‘do you want to see real change in this country and take back control of your lives and your futures?’. To blame the EU for years and years of policies that put markets before people creating a society that judges people not on their worth by what they do for others, but by how much money they have, is the wrong answer. Our nationally elected governments have driven these policies consistently for many years. Our governments have full control over their budgetary and taxation policy.  To infer anything otherwise is simply wrong.

I have watched with admiration the way that the Labour Party have made themselves more democratic and accountable to its members in these last few years. Members, all of whom have invested in their membership fees and many who have invested time to support key campaigns.  This democracy should be ultimate. The EU referendum was an exercise in democracy and that should be respected. But before some lecture us on democracy, will those same people call our current parliamentary electoral system for what it is? Fundamentally undemocratic given the vagaries of the First Past The Post System. This system delivers power to the winning party on the basis of no more than 40% of votes cast. Since when was 40% a majority anywhere? So democracy and ‘our democratic system’ is at best fluid, and at worst flawed and not actually democratic.

I think you will be aware that the vast majority of Labour members want another chance to express their preferences to either remain or leave the EU, via a People’s Vote. Given that we have all found out a lot more in these past 30 months. I doubt the Remain campaign would get a red bus long enough to put ‘We could spend £39,000,000,000 on the NHS instead’?

Jeremy, you are a democrat. You believe in people and you believe in the interests of the many over the select few. Many people voted to leave the EU and they voted for a variety of reasons. There was no single united vision for Brexit. It was not the fault of those that voted. As Mary Wollstonecraft said, ‘No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks’.

Jeremy given the amount of false and disingenuous claims made by Leave and not withstanding the fact that Electoral Law was broken, the vast majority of Labour members are looking to you to lead by making the case for a better informed democratic People’s Vote. If you believe in doing the right thing, then please ensure we are told the truth and given the chance to make our voices heard on the biggest issues we will all face.

Yours sincerely, 

AG Payne


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Dear Prime Minister…..

I sent this letter to the Prime Minister on the 6th of December. Thus far I have had no reply, so I posted another copy today, the day of the ‘meaningful vote’…..

Dear Prime Minister,

I write this open letter to you with the heaviest of hearts. I am a proud citizen of the United Kingdom with an England tattoo on my arm and an OBE on my chest. The truth is one of my ways of life.

Like you Prime Minister, I consider myself patriotic, principled and I take my duty as a citizen very seriously. But our beloved country has allowed itself to descend into an ungracious and dis-unified state the likes of which we have never known.

As an entrepreneur I build businesses. Most of mine have been successful, but not all. It’s my job to be laser focused on what my companies offer both employee and customer. I build, listen and motivate incredible teams. I know to pivot when ‘staying the course’ would lead to disaster. All successful leaders learn through failure. As Madiba said “Quitting Is Leading”.

My octogenarian Mum (the most patriotic person I know) will never suffer a bad word said of our Great Britain. Mum’s family fled Fascists and Nazis to make a home in East London. Our country used to have the highest reputation for providing safe haven to those fleeing terror. That reputation is presently in danger of being lost.

My father worked with Jewish people all his life and they were all proud to be East Enders and equally proud of being British. Yet they never lost sight of their Jewish heritage and responsibilities before God. Every good British soul at that time was wearied by hate and war. We wanted it utterly done with. Our progress and peace in Europe since then has no historical precedent. Our freedom to live, work and love in the EU has accelerated world peace and collective understanding for our fellow mankind.

We have all been on a strange journey since June 23rd 2016. Every voter appears to have been sold a ‘victory’ based on lies, deception and outrageous interference. The legal and moral shadows cast by that interference still loom large today.

Political pundits and supposedly ‘bright headed journalists’ have spent years pointing the finger at the EU, blaming them for our immigration problems. Successive UK governments have failed to exercise our right in EU law to control our own numbers.

Is it because we desperately need more skilled people? I think so.

I don’t need to tell you where the majority of our net migration comes from. You know that the top three nations are either in the Commonwealth or our closest neighbours. If you, like me, recently watched the Darkest Hour film on Churchill’s ascent to your present office, then you would know that King George VI told Churchill:

“The public needs to be led, not misled”. The rest is history and our Darkest Hour led to our Finest Hour.

What the world needs now is the truth. Pure and simple truth. You have put a good amount of toil into your government’s Withdrawal Agreement. The 585 page document represents a huge amount of legally binding words. The Political Declaration alongside it is a 27 page promise of our intended future relationship and nothing more. But it delivers us nothing but warm words. None of the hollow promises made to us all by the Leave camp seem achievable in reality. There is no actual future deal yet on the table. Will this Withdrawal Agreement not leave us poorer than we are under our current membership of the EU?

You stood on the steps of Number 10 Downing St when you became Prime Minister and talked about fighting the burning injustices of this country. If we are poorer, how can we rectify these injustices? You still have the chance to tell us the truth and lead us into a better place. Ask our Parliament to help you, ask us, the people to help you too. But tell us the truth, please. As Lincoln said, “you can’t lie to people and expect them to continue to follow you”.

Prime Minister, your job is to inspire we the people but you must also speak truth to us. All the advice you have been given and all the data at your disposal points to our country being worse off if we leave the EU. Please admit this to us and tell us that you need to change direction, it is your job to make this country safe, and that cannot happen if we are poorer and our influence is diminished. We would all respect you for that.

We need the truth now more than ever in our history. Tell us the truth Prime Minister. Yours sincerely,

AG Payne OBE

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Forward, Comrades?

It was 73 years ago today, the 17th August 1945, that George Orwell’s masterpiece, Animal Farm, was first published. After six years of total global war, peace had finally just been restored after the world had witnessed two final monumental acts of mass murder had been inflicted on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and learned of the evil that was The Holocaust. The peace that ensued was going to prove to be fragile and the new world orders of the Soviet Union and NATO led by the United States of America, were diametrically opposed in their ideologies around communism and capitalism. The sun was finally rising and yet it was like there was a massive eclipse, blocking that light out and the Cold War was about to begin,

For me, and some of my friends who I am working with now, Animal Farm was and still is one of the most important and influential books we have ever read. Furthermore, unlike many seminal works of literature, we all read it when we were children, I think I was about 10 years old, as it was presented as a child’s fairy story. Animal Farm is a fable and an allegory and for me and some of my friends, rather than being a polemic about the reality if communism, we feel it is actually about the dangers of oppression. George Orwell (real name Eric Blair) had fought alongside the International Brigades against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War and had seen first hand how the different factions of the socialist left had been far from united and actually at war with itself. He suffered the oppression of the Stalinist backed forces whilst fighting what he had assumed was the common enemy, Franco. The rest as they say is history.

73 years on, and the world has entered a very dark place again. Animal Farm is as relevant today as it was on the very first day it was published. The western world is ‘led’ by a character who seems to espouse a spirit of revolution, whilst seemingly coming from an incredibly privileged background. This character tweets propaganda, with a healthy helping of downright lies, in bite sized chunks, designed to provoke outrage and division with his randomly capitalised words to spark even more outrage amongst the ‘liberal intellectual elite’ that he blames for everything. Simplistic slogans are thrown around regularly in order to fuel this division and forge support from ‘his core’. Slogans like, ‘Make America Great Again’, ‘Drain the Swamp’, ‘Fake News’, ‘Lock Her Up’ seem to draw on ‘Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad’ and ‘All Animals Are Equal’ for inspiration. Surely its only a matter of time before those slogans get altered in the style of Animal Farm, maybe we will see ‘Make America Great Again, at the expense of everyone else’, ‘Drain their Swamp’, or maybe just  ‘Your News is Fake News’.   Over in the east, there is another ‘strong man’ who rules with an iron fist and wants to conform to the old Cold War battle lines. In the Middle East we have more ‘strong’ rulers in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  Zealous nationalists are trying to tear Europe apart and we see the rise of religious fundamentalist turbulence is everywhere. Many people believe ‘free speech’ is being shut down by this same ‘liberal intellectual [left wing] elite’ and yet are so confused that they seem to want to not only blame ‘the other’, whoever that may be (usually an immigrant) and actually ban what others want to wear, say and even think.

When I read first Animal Farm, I remember really liking the idealism of the farm and all it stood for. The characters of Old Major, Boxer, Mollie and Snowball were great and I connected with them and even Napoleon’s approach showed some sense. But I will never forget ending up as I closed the book, thinking to myself, ‘Is that it? Is that really it? Surely there must have been a better way, a better outcome for all? Surely the oppression shown by the pigs and their attack dogs ends up being no different from Mr Jones the farmer, the very man they overthrew at the start?

And that is why, 73 years on, my friends Imre, Georg, Rachel, Matt and a few others have decided to make a videogame of Animal Farm. We have received the permission and the official licence from the estate of Eric Blair and we will ensure that we respect the original ideas and motives of Orwell himself. We will definitely not mess around with the characters or the narrative, and as Imre often says, ‘we are not going to do Animal Farm in space!’. But where games can and do differ from literature and film, is that it will give players real choice and agency. We have embarked on that journey together and have already had plenty of creative challenges. We will definitely avoid being preachy, so player choice is everything. The world is complicated and the problems we all face are not solved by simplistic and ultimately untrue slogans. What we hope to do is to allow players plenty of options which will then effect their journey and experience delivering outcomes and consequences which may please or disappoint them, or just leaving them scratching their heads, just like I did as a 10 year old!

I will leave you with this Orwell quote, ‘No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?’. Remind you of anyone?




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Russian Roulette?

via Russian Roulette?

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July 9, 2018 · 6:12 pm

Russian Roulette?

Some people asked us if our blog was all over, well it was, but due to a teeny bit of friendly hassle we have decided to revive it one more time!

It was Wednesday 20th June and we were at Royal Ascot with friends from Cheltenham and Norfolk. It was a great day’s racing and I got a couple of big winners (and that came in handy given what was to unfold). Whilst I was having a drink, with my good friend’s Drew and Galton and I uttered a classic Andy Payne one liner ‘I can’t stand watching England on TV, I am going to go to Russia’. As soon as I said it, I knew I had to go and knew I had probably opened my mouth too quickly and too early, not for the first time in my life!

When Russia was announced as the venue for the World Cup, I had instantly decided to give it a swerve. All the talk of violence did not help and I thought my England away days were behind me. But this team, this manager and the few England fans out in Russia meant that a special atmosphere was building.

So that was it. A drunken promise, next stop Russia. I had said to Kirsty on the morning of the Belgium game that I was going to go, no matter whether England got past the last 16 or not. That night we lost 1-0 and I jumped on the FIFA website and after about 5 hours, I landed 2 tickets for the quarter final in Samara. The risk was that England would lose their game against Colombia and we would be supporting either Colombia, Sweden or Switzerland.

But following England has always been a very big risk. Kirsty focused on flights and hotels and by 5am Friday morning we were all sorted. All that had to happen was for England to get past Colombia.

Kirsty contacted me on the day of the Colombian game and said we had been invited around to our friends’ house in the village. My general rule is that I don’t do England or West Ham on TV unless I am on my own. But Kirsty persuaded me to accept and we watched the game with Sally and Chris and had a great night. And what a game!

The next day we left the UK and went to visit our good friends Dawn and Jon in the south of France. We had already booked a short trip to see them and both of us were determined to visit at least for a couple of days. So we flew from Bristol to Toulouse and hired a car to their house near Carcassonne. We had a great 36 hours with them and their brilliant daughters, Phoebe and Naomi, before setting off at 5am on Friday morning to drive 5 hours to Lyon.

From Lyon we flew to Moscow. Luckily we had done our research and got our FAN ID cards which grant a visa to enter Mother Russia.

The Aeroflot flight was great, although the stewards were more like security guards given the propensity for fellow passengers to not follow inflight announcements.

Getting into Russia was hilarious. My passport carries a picture of me in my bearded Taliban state. The passport control officer at Sheremetyevo Airport actually laughed when she saw my picture. ‘That bodes well’, I chuckled to myself.

We picked up our tickets for the Sweden game from the FIFA collection desk and grabbed a couple of Russian SIM cards too. We managed to get slightly spivved off by a Russian bloke who persuaded us to get a taxi into the city. We needed to pick up our FAN IDs and the address seemed to be at Spartak Moscow’s ground. So our taxi needed to go there, drop us off, wait until we got our FAN IDs. The instructions I had were specific….’The FAN ID distribution center is located at: 73, Volokolamskoye Highway, Moscow (Москва, Волоколамское шоссе, д. 73). You can get to the FAN ID distribution center as follows: from the Tushinskaya subway station (Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya line), along the even-numbered side of Tushinskaya Square, walk to the Volokolamskoye Highway. Then, to the right, along the odd-numbered side of the Volokolamskoye Highway, to street number 73. The Distribution Center is located on the other side of the entrance to the SDM Center’.

The problem was that the cab driver didn’t really understand the English instructions, so it turned into a proper caper! I got dropped off at Spartak’s ground only to find everything closed up. There was a print out on the door of the FAN ID centre which gave some instructions .

I showed that to the cabbie and he then took off at speed. Traffic in and around Moscow is heavy to say the least. The FAN ID place closed at 8pm and it was now 7.25pm. Precisely 30 mins later we arrived at our destination. Hilariously it was a stone’s throw from where I had been dropped originally! The ID centre was very efficient and the staff very polite and professional. We had made it with 5 mins to spare and both had our FAN IDs and our tickets. Phew!

The cabbie then drove us into Moscow itself to The Budapest Hotel. What a great old grand place that was! As we were soon to realise metal detectors accompanied by signs saying ‘No Guns’ are on the doors of most hotels. The staff were great and the room was amazing. Old, yes, but crazily magnificent.

We went out to watch Brazil vs Belgium and found a bar near Red Square. It was great. There were a load of Colombian fans supporting Brazil and spirits were good. We got a couple of great Pizzas and some Russian beers. I am a Pizza snob. If you don’t have the right dough and a Pizza oven, forget it. This place had both.

We then did a bit of a walk around the area into Red Square, which is very impressive indeed, took pictures of the Kremlin and all the rest. A couple of Russian lads jumped three lads with Brazilian, Belgium and French flags and it seemed like the police let them get away with it. Other than that there was no trouble at all. The streets around Red Square were chokker and it seemed like plenty of Russians of all ages were enjoying the atmosphere, all be it in varying states of inebriation!

We turned in about 1.30am and had to be up at 4am to get our flight to Samara.

The hotel gave us a breakfast box each, which was incredibly sweet of them, given we were missing the restaurant opening. The cab driver, like most people spoke no English. He seemed to know where we were going this time to the airport south west of Moscow Vnukovo and dropped us in what looked like a scene from Shaun of the Dead. It was 5am, the sun has just risen and everyone was trailing bags behind them across rubble and into a very old USSR style airport.

We had to line up to check in and whilst doing this Kirsty witnessed a mother dish out a proper belting to her daughter, who must have been about 20yrs old. The Russians seem to be a no nonsense people, and life does seem pretty tough. No one batted an eyelid!

Our flight was at 7.20am so we had time to kill. The breakfast box came in very handy indeed. Another thing I noticed was a kids’ play area which was being prepared to be opened. The lady was laying out all the toys and a huge train set. Kirsty said to me ‘that won’t last five minutes when the kids arrive’. About an hour later, the kids did arrive. All of them were playing nicely with each other, and one boy was playing so precisely with the huge train set it made me smile. Clearly an engineer in the making. Everywhere you go in Russia, children are at the centre. They are really well behaved and incredibly polite. We could learn a thing or two from Russian society.

When we got to Samara we were greeted by a load of Russian lads in English football shirts – Spurs purple away, Forest white away and Port Vale home kit!! I have no idea what that was all about.

We took a cab to our hotel, the Angel Hotel, which didn’t look great on Google Maps to be honest, but beggars can’t be choosers! How wrong we were. The staff were amazing and the hospitality wonderful. We were treated kindly all the way. We put our heads down for an hour and then hit town. We shared a cab with some Chinese girls who were there to watch and support England. Two of them had full length Adidas football socks on! We had a great chat with them in the cab and Kirsty managed to impress said ladies by recalling the tale of my OBE day at Buckingham Palace as they were huge British Monarchy fans. This was after I had shown them both my Spain 82 World Cup tattoo. Lord only knows what these Chinese thought of us.

We got dropped off by the beach and walked along the front. I have to say the statues and the architecture were hugely impressive. Samara was once the centre of the Soviet Union’s space industry and to prevent knowledge leaking out, it was a closed city. There are statues of Sputniks, Cosmonauts and Soyuz rockets all over the place and it really appealed to my inner 7 year old NASA space fan boy.

We took a pacey stroll along the promenade and up into town to meet up with our mate Shane a fellow veteran of many England away days. After 35 mins walk we finally met them in the Czech Duck, a little bar in the centre of town. The walk was really pleasant, it was a hot day and there were virtually no people anywhere. It felt like we were walking through a film set…

The Czech Duck was great. Lovely staff again and good food and drink. Shane’s lot were all in good spirits. All pretty much my age, not an England shirt to be seen.

We had a great time, plenty of laughter and FaceTimed Jon and Dawn who’s party was in full swing. Shane, Jon and I had spent an hilarious few days at Euro 2004 in Seville, and yes the championships were actually held in Portugal. It was pre social media and Google Maps and we literally could never find our hotel or our way out of Seville. On match day, we drove to Lisbon, without a map. I figured if we followed the sea all the way to Albufeira and turn right and head north we would get there. We called Jon’s wife Dawn up en route when we got lost and she talked us through using her atlas, from Manchester.

Kirsty had been chatting to a Russian guy at the bar, she doesn’t speak a word of Russian and he didn’t speak a word of English but somehow they managed to communicate and just before leaving he came over and delivered Kirsty a cocktail that he’d bought her, so hospitable! We ended up leaving the bar a bit later than we planned and took the shuttle bus to the Samara stadium. It’s a long old way but the stadium is pretty futuristic. Think Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome meets Blade Runner. Most of you will have seen the game. The loudest chants were from the Russian fans with their ‘Rus. Il ia’ chants which sound like ‘Bra Zil Ya’ to the uninitiated. I have never been more relaxed watching England and that was despite Jordan Pickford pulling off two great saves that Gordon Banks would have been proud of ! We met David, a lovely man from Florida who was the same age as me, although he had only done seven World Cups. He had been at the Belgium vs Brazil match in Kazan the night before and just loved watching as many World Cup games as he could . Lovely bloke. Here’s a picture of David before the England vs Croatia game.

We played the game out, the players showed their gratitude to the fans and Gareth Southgate allowed himself to let rip and all was well. The PA played ‘It’s Coming Home’, ‘All You Need is Love’ which was our wedding entrance song, and ‘Wonderwall’. All was well.

As soon as the final whistle blew, Kirsty and I started thinking about the next leg. We needed to cancel our flights from Samara to Moscow to Helsinki to London and get as much cash back as we could. Our mobiles were low on charge and we needed to get back to our hotel which was north of the stadium, whereas the city centre was south of the stadium. So all the free transport laid on by the city was actually useless to us. Getting a cab was nigh on impossible and it was as a three hour walk to our hotel. At times like these you have to think out of the box. I flagged down a car offered him 1,000 Roubles (about £10) and asked the driver if he could take us to the Angel Hotel. He agreed and seemed to know exactly where he was going. He introduced himself and told he was a Tartar, there were 7 million of them in Russia and they were Muslim. He was another driver who only knew one speed. Ridiculously fast! As we were hurtling along at 100kph, he then asked if he could do a selfie with us. I said yes of course, thinking he would do that when we arrived at the hotel. Without further ado, our crazy Tartar then put his phone up, smiled and took about 10 selfies, at full speed. What a character !

We got back safe and sound and totally exhausted. Lack of sleep, nervous energy and dehydration plus the tension of getting these flights cancelled in time meant there was no post match wind down. Quite the reverse!

We duly got the flights cancelled, all be it without a 100% refund, and then watched the Russia vs Croatia game in the bar with a mad West Ham fan and loads of Russians who insisted buying me, not Kirsty, loads of Vodka shots. It was a tense game, and we really felt for the Russians who pulled the game back from the brink only to lose out cruelly on penalties. By the time the game finished it was 1am and we were totally bushed.

We decided to get an early night and focus on getting our transport, hotels and most importantly our semi final tickets in the morning.

We overslept somewhat and got on the case on all fronts. By now various mates we in touch all wanting to know about how they could get tickets. What felt like a million WhatsApp groups were pinging and everything was frenzied. One of my school mates, Dom, who now lives in South Africa has decided to come. We managed to screw up booking our hotels in the frenzy and Kirsty managed to get the hotel to contact and honour the deal. We booked our trains only to find out that bookings would not be confirmed until ‘office hours’,’ whatever they were! We had our iPhones and iPads on the FIFA website constantly to get our tickets through a legit source. Dom was doing the same as was Keith another friend driving back from London. I managed to get through, got all the way to check out only find that Visa had sent me a code by text. Trouble was my phone SIM was a Russian one so the text message obviously did not get to me. I needed something to get the SIM out with. This was worse than watching England take penalties and as soon as I took my Russian SIM out, I would lose my connection and thus the tickets! By the time I had run downstairs to reception to get a huge pin, the application had timed out!!! 30 minutes later Kirsty got in, and we had 3 more tickets in our shopping basket. I’ve never seen Kirsty so nervous as she put her details into the site. She was holding one index finger with another as she typed it all in as her hands were shaking so much! Eventually we got to the confirmation page, and then it asked for some PIN code which Kirsty had never had!! Once again we were foiled !!

By this time Dom had managed to get two singles for him and Keith. Meanwhile other mates were getting frustrated by the FIFA site and tempers were fraying!! Another hour went past and we had both lost energy and I was already looking at other ‘sources’ for our tickets. Then suddenly Kirsty shouted ‘I’m in!’. And so the process started again. The same tension mixed with frustration. She got to then end again only to be booted out for some other random reason.

So three times we had got through only to fall at the final hurdle….

I had made progress with other options and decided we would go to the stadium when we got to Moscow and graft for some tickets. It was 5.45pm, we had eaten and drunk nothing and felt pretty cheated, but I had had years of this.

You just have to keep trying every which way. Just as we were about to leave to go into town, Kirsty said she would try one more time and noticed that there was a note of a successful request in her FIFA account. We did a double take, WhatsApp ed Dom and asked him to share his successful transaction and after about 20 mins agreed it looked like we had bought two tickets after all. But we were not 100% certain.

So I said to Kirsty we should get to the ticket collection point in Samara as soon as possible and get them.

We got another crazy taxi driver just as the heavens opened and we were treated to a colossal storm. That made no difference to the driver who pelted around Samara at top speed whilst on his mobile… you literally couldn’t see a hand in front of your face. We found the collection office deep inside a random shopping mall and the driver waited.

A quick visit to the office, we got the tickets safely in our hands, despite the Russian guards demanding I deleted all of the pictures I took inside the office, and we were back in the cab and off to celebrate!

It was 7.45pm, the sun was going down on Samara and all was well. We found a great bar with great music right on the river Volga, watched the sunset and enjoyed the moment. I had also fixed up some other mates with tickets so all in all it was another hell of a day! Beer and neat vodkas were consumed and we slept like babies after a day of hard graft where the hotel room was turned into a war office, hours and hours of tactical manoeuvres and we’d won this skirmish… onwards and upwards to the next battle in Moscow!

Tomorrow we travel back to Moscow, by train for 17 hours, Kirsty was talking to the hotel receptionist and saying that if you travelled on a train for 17 hours in the UK you’d end up in the sea, he looked at her and said that he had a Russian train journey once that last 7 days….. the adventure continues!

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Publishing 3.0 – The Art of Discovery

I wrote a series of 4 articles for Develop back in June 2015. Seems a long time ago, and much has changed. But some of this is still relevant in my book.

Want or need? This is something I often ask myself about many things that come up in my daily life, business or otherwise. So often we mix the two words up contextually. We all really do need to breathe, although we may think we just want to. Do I need a game or do I just want it? Indeed, does any games developer really need a publisher? No, but some may choose to want to work with one.

Making games has never been easier – or at least the barriers to entry for game makers have never been lower. There is no guarantee that all of the games made will be good, let alone great, but lining up on the grid has never been so democratically accessible. The downside is that it is the same for everyone and the sheer number of games being made today is far higher than it has ever been.

Indeed, I would argue that the number of truly great games being made by super talented developers has never been so high and so diverse. Next week will see a load more great games being made available digitally from a variety of places to work on a myriad of devices. And the week after that, we will see more.

Even though the market is growing, it is becoming more and more difficult to get our games discovered and therefore actually played.
The market for digital games is growing all the time, with mobile and tablet sales off the scale selling a mere 45m units or so every single quarter. There are 125m gamers in the Steam community and over 150m consoles from two generations that could connect to the internet and thus buy and stream games. But even though the market is growing, it is becoming more and more difficult to get our games discovered and therefore actually played.

A quick disclaimer: I am going to focus on premium games, games that I will define as those sold for money. My work with free-to-play games for mobile and tablet at AppyNation is a whole different story. In a nutshell, the same problem faces everyone who makes games, namely how can you get gamers to want or even need your game?

The problem has always been there of course, even when we had only traditional retailers to sell our games. Aside from the assumption that the game is both of high quality and good value for money, you always needed to make sure your game was known about and wanted, or needed, by gamers.


So tip number one is to start at the beginning. Assuming that you have worked out what type of game you are making, and who you are actually making it for, you will have decided what platform you will make it for. You then need to ask yourself a number of questions in order to set some objectives and targets for you and your game.

First up, you will need to produce a communications plan. As much as you may not want to, face up to it because without a plan, your chances of success will probably reduce a fair bit. So bite the bullet and get weaving.

Ask yourself ‘what makes my game different and why would gamers want (or indeed need) it?’. You will need to research and analyse what other games that could be similar to yours are on, or are due to be on, the market. You may want to build an analysis detailing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats around your game. This requires you and your team to be frank and honest with yourselves. Do not shy away from the hard facts, but equally don’t beat your team and your game up. Having strong competition is actually a good thing and it should drive you to produce excellence. Never put your head in the sand: you get sand in your eyes!

You will also need to think hard about:

How are you going to build a community of gamers who want to play, support and buy your game?
Can you persuade the platform holders that your game is special and thus in need of some highlight, featuring or focus?
How exactly are you going to get Streamers and YouTubers to play your game, hopefully in a way that is kind to your game?
How do you reach out to what is left of the traditional games media, and encourage them to even read your news release?
What assets do you need to create and when you have created them, how and when do you release them into the big wide world?
How many languages do you set out to support and how do you get coverage on a global basis?
And when that is all done, how and how long do you support the game and your community post release?
All that and more will need to be considered in due course.


And then there is YOU. Gamers love to know more about the people behind the games. Whilst this may feel counter intuitive to many games developers, believe me, your personality, values, attitude and ambitions will define you and your studio’s brand. Whilst it may sound like corporate spiel, it is actually very important and is a vital part of your communications strategy over time. So think about that and ensure that you do try your best to communicate all of your values to your potential fans, community and industry peers. And anyone else who cares to watch, listen, or even read about you and your game.

Clear and consistent communication is essential at all stages. You may want to do this yourself or you may want to work with a professional communications agency. There are plenty of great people who can help you, and many of them no longer work for big corporations, wholly independent and super motivated. And motivated is key. You must work with people who are passionate about your games, just like you. Any other approach is second best. Whichever route you take, and I would advise anyone to work with great people, you have to figure out what makes your game special, indeed what is the game’s special stuff or X factor?

Gamers love to know more about the people behind the games. Believe me, your personality, values, attitude and ambitions will define you and your studio’s brand
What is the core gameplay, and how are you going to get that message into the right media, so that they understand and more importantly become supporters of you and your game? How do you focus on the benefits of your game, rather than just the features? This is something all of us can fall foul of. We all love features, but unless there is a pay-off, or a benefit to players, they will not move the needle on the sales to justify the time it takes to make those features in the first place. So you must ensure features become benefits; if they don’t, don’t waste your time putting them into your game.

Once you have created your communications messaging, ensure that you get other eyes on it for a sanity check. Keep the message succinct and simple. No one wants waffle anyway and no one has the time to even read it, let alone take it in and write or broadcast about it. Try and get inside the heads of the people you are trying to reach. What do they actually need in order to cover your game or your studio? Research and confer with industry experts and your peers. If you are going to put a quote out to the media, what sort of quote should it be and is it both appropriate and interesting, to the target audience?


Make sure you make things as easy for the media as possible. Like you, they are over busy all of the time and simply don’t have time to dissect a jumbled set of random information. Be tidy. Produce materials that are appropriate and targeted. Decide on the tone of voice that you want to adopt, if you are unsure, simply be yourself, be natural and don’t try and fake it.

If you are working with an agency or agencies if you are covering multiple territories, make sure that you take the time to brief them clearly about the game and importantly tell them what you are trying to achieve. Positively encourage and listen to their feedback. Your partners should not only be experienced, but they should also be a great sounding board offering vital feedback and advice before you go public with your campaign.

Think also about your timings around asset distribution and the phasing of their release. For any of you who have run Kickstarter campaigns, you will know that it is wise to map out your strategy and tactics before you unleash your campaign video an start that clock ticking down. You will know that engagement is essential and for that to work there has to be great content that is shareable. It is the same with a game launch. You must work out or take advice as to your timings. Too much communication and it is spam, too little and no one actually knows anything about your game and importantly, why it is important.

Anyone that has run Kickstarter campaigns will know that engagement is essential and for that to work there has to be great content that is shareable. It is the same with a game launch.
Walk through your plans time and time again and discuss and refine them until you and your team are convinced it will work. Then get ready for the real world to react, or not. Not everything will be clockwork and your assumptions may be wide of the mark or just plain wrong. When you launch the campaign, via social media and/or more traditional media, you must have at least one person on top of the campaign at all times.

It can be very disheartening if you don’t get the media pick up you were hoping for. Don’t worry, that happens. What is important is how you react and re-arm the campaign. Ensure your team is aligned, keep them motivated and above all communicate lots try to do regular face to face meetings, and ensure you are in touch over Skype or Hangout. When you get coverage, make sure it is shared amongst your team so everyone is aware of the progress at all time. Good news is a motivator. This is all part of the measuring process that is essential. Measure your results in real time, track your progress against your plan and remember to be agile. If the plan is not working, change it.

There are plenty more aspects to think about and cover off when trying to get your game discovered, so expect some more thoughts on those very soon. In the meantime, be clear, consistent and confident. There are no shortcuts: you have to work hard and smart.

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Filed under Video games

May is over. Pass the parchment….

Well what a week it was. As if our 12th wedding anniversary, a joyous and great landmark in itself, wasn’t enough, then the General Election just added to my excitement and joy. It was just under one year since the people of the UK decided to vote by a small margin to leave the European Union, a decision which will have enormous ramifications, some good and some not so good, for the people of the UK, not just now, but for generations to come. Whichever side of that argument you are on, the vote was cast and the UK is  leaving the EU. What has not been agreed is the actual details around the deal. That all has to be negotiated and that process will start in around seven days time.

Up until Thursday, we were going to be in the hands of a Prime Minister who had no idea of what consensus looks like, let alone how to build one and why it is so important for our country. She approached the issue with succession of inane and meaningless slogans such as ‘Brexit means Brexit‘, ‘A red, white and blue Brexit‘ and ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’.  Then she decided after a walking holiday over the Easter holiday to call a snap general election in order to ‘strengthen her hand‘ in the upcoming Brexit talks. The rest is history. Consistency is everything, and Theresa May ensured that she trotted out another asinine slogan, the now infamous ‘Strong and stable government‘ followed up with the equally ridiculous ‘Coalition of chaos‘, which ironically is about to become true, but not in the ways that Mrs May’s team had thought. The Conservative and Unionist Party are now in talks to do what is known as a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. We shall see how that pans out in the near future, but don’t expect this to be an easy ride for the Prime Minister, especially given that the devolved government in Northern Ireland has been stood down now and only has until the end of this month to reconvene, otherwise the Northern Irish will be put under ‘Home Rule‘ from Westminster, which has so many negative connotations for so many that it will not go down that well in that part of the UK.

It is clear now that the Prime Minister is a lame duck in every way possible. What is unclear is how long she will stay in the job. Under normal circumstances, she would have resigned on Friday. Instead she made one of the most ludicrous speeches I have ever heard standing on the steps outside Number 10 Downing St. So ridiculous, it just cemented Theresa May as the worst Prime Minister of my lifetime, in my opinion of course. Up until Thursday morning I also thought she was the most dangerous Prime Minister of my lifetime too. Dangerous because she had decided that our democratic decision, decided by referendum to leave the EU, would be the hardest of hard Brexits. She had clearly not taken the advice of businesses of all sizes who have been warning since last June of the catastrophic effects of crashing out of the Single Market and the Customs Union without a proper negotiated deal and closing our borders to talent, so much of it absolutely essential to keeping our economy growing.

The Prime Minister must now listen to the voices of reason. Equally, she will have the hard right of her party shouting that we must carry on regardless, but given her lack of majority in Parliament, many on the centre and left of her party will be saying she should moderate her and therefore the UK’s position. Labour would be best off keeping quiet for now, and they should focus on bringing their party back together. The Conservatives are so scared of another election right now, especially in the age of crowdfunding where parties can raise smaller amounts of cash from many people and not least because all of us are electioned-out, that they need Theresa May to stay in post. Make no mistake, she has been told to stand and hold the fort, whilst the Tory high command figure out who will be the next leader, and potentially Prime Minister. The potential candidates are Amber Rudd, who actually stood in for the Prime Minister at the leaders’ debate on TV, but has a majority of only 340 last Thursday, Michael Fallon, currently the only minister who is comfortable trotting out the party line even when the tin hats are on, or Boris Johnson. It was clear that Boris Johnson has been sussing out the mood amongst his peers since about 5am on Friday morning and has realised, or more accurately has been told to lay off for now. Boris is the most popular Conservative politician with all the local party associations, but is not trusted by so many of the actual Tory MPs. My money, for what it is worth, is on Johnson at some stage to declare that he has no choice but to take the helm of the UK. I have just finished reading his book about Winston Churchill and it is clear Boris actually thinks he is actually a latter day Churchill. This will play into his narrative that in its our time of greatest need, and there is only one person who can possibly lead Great Britain to salvation against the ravages of the European foes massing at our doors wanting to run us into the ground.  Like Churchill, Johnson is man who has connections in the USA, having been born in the USA and having US citizenship. You see how this could play out can’t you?

Right now, the Conservatives are in a state of panic. Do they keep Theresa May for a few months, or do they take a risk and allow Boris to live out his Churchillian fantasy at the expense of all of us? I think it is only a matter of when really.  The guff about bringing back Grammar schools and fox hunting will all go, they would be best advised to focus on getting Brexit sorted out as soft as possible for everyone’s sake.  Today’s latest announcement from the Prime Minster’s office is that the Queen’s Speech may be delayed as the time taken to transcribe the yet unwritten Queen’s Speech onto goatskin parchment, will mean it goes past next Monday’s original date and after that, The Queen will be at Royal Ascot for the rest of the week. If you ever thought we were in an episode of ‘The Thick of It’ we are surely in one right now. A lame duck, just got lamer.

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Filed under EU Referendum, General Election 2017