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 Booking.com 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!
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.
REFLECTION BEFORE RELEASE
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.
THE PERKS OF PERSONALITY
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.
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.
Today saw the publication of the Conservative and Unionist Party’s election manifesto. That followed the Lib Dems yesterday and Labour’s on Tuesday, although most of it was leaked a week before. And in exactly three weeks time, those who are registered to vote and want to vote, will vote. As a betting man, I would not back against the Conservative and Unionist Party winning by a landslide, currently you can get 25/1 with Paddy Power for Labour to win an outright majority and the same odds reversed for a majority Conservative and Unionist win. In plain English £1 on Labour winning will get you £25 back plus your original stake. £1 on the Conservative and Unionists will get you 4p back plus your original stake.
Theresa May has clearly decided, or been advised, to focus on herself as the ‘strong and stable’ leader who will ‘take the difficult decisions’ in order to deliver a successful Brexit. Her rhetoric is all about how big the challenge ahead is and how ‘her’ plan will deliver a ‘stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain’ which ‘seizes the opportunities ahead and to build a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call their home.’ That bit is interesting, given I for one am actually proud to call Britain my home. But hey, I am just one person and maybe Mrs May is not proud to call Britain her home, just yet? But what I did find interesting was her aim to build ‘a Great Meritocracy here in Britain’ (note this is not my use of random capital letters, that’s her speech writer – you can read the whole speech here https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/conservative-party/news/86027/read-theresa-mays-full-speech-conservatives }. I for one like the idea of a meritocracy, but am always cautious about those who the ‘meritocracy’ leaves behind. If Brexit taught anyone anything, it was that plenty of people feel, rightly, that they have been left behind in a globalised world. Add to that the definition of meritocracy that I found is ‘a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people’ (experts anyone?) and I wonder if this comes to pass, whether it will actually improves things for the vast majority of ‘hard working people’ in this new, much heralded ‘Global Britain’?
Theresa May’s speech did come across all Winstonian. No, not that Winston, not the Winston Smith of George Orwell’s 1984 fame, no no, the other Winston, Mr Churchill. It felt like we were being pitched back to 1939. Great Britain was up against the dark foes in Europe and we had our collective backs against the proverbial wall. We have nowhere to go except, forward, together and face down the enemy. The road ahead will be tough, but we have no choice, but to grin and bear it and fight our way out of the EU. Our only chance is to back Mrs May’s strong and stable leadership, in the national interest.
Meanwhile over at Labour towers, it felt all very 1945.It’s a scenario whereby the people have come through several years of suffering, public services are rationed, real wages are falling and yet there had been record employment. What Labour was offering was in effect a New Deal, again. This would see the people take control of national assets, power, water, railways, and build loads of new low cost housing for all. The new Prime Minister would be an unassuming, intellectual man and generally less than brilliant at public relations but would pursue our foreign policy with a quiet manner, ensuring we make friends and try to keep them honest, rather than going in with a big stick.
Keep your money in your pockets. Some of the people of Britain love a fight, love to feel that we are the underdog and that we can once again be ‘great’. That plays into Theresa May’s hands and will deliver her a massive majority in three weeks time. The only hope for an alternative vision is for the young who have never voted to actually vote. Even then, and despite so many broken promises on immigration levels, deficit and therefore debt reduction, the Winstonian rhetoric will win the day. George Orwell was right. Right back then, right now. Get ready for many, many years of broken promises and lack of hope. We get the politicians we deserve and the public gets what the public wants. Me? I’m Going Underground.
Mungo Amyatt- Leir 31st May 1968- 16th January 2017
‘Hello, Mungo Leir speaking, how can I help you?’
‘Ah, Mungo, it’s Andy Payne, you left a message on my answer phone, something about a dragon’s cape?’
‘Ah, yes, thank you Andy. I really do appreciate you calling me back. Have I caught you at a convenient time? I would like to talk to you about a game I am making called Dragon Scape and wondered if you could help?’
That was early 1989, and it was the first time I had ever spoken to my dear friend, one time business partner and surrogate brother, Mungo Leir. When I asked how on earth he got his name. he told me that it was his father’s idea who thought it would give his son a ‘distinctive and international flavour’ as well as providing some mirth given his son would sound like a country once ruled by a great military leader, namely a bloke called Genghis Khan.
I never did actually get fully paid for the work I agreed to do, but that didn’t matter as Mungo and I hit it off immediately, besides, Mungo acknowledged that he would honour the debt down the line and most importantly it set up a friendship that lasted for 28 years. Mungo was true to his word, and I never doubted he would be.
Mungo had a spell working with Jeremy Cooke and Howard Newmark at The Software Business, where our paths crossed again. Then he worked with greg Rice at Instant Access and we worked together once more. It was only when Mungo set up a games business with Roger Large that we began to get really close. This was summer 1996 and in 1997 all three of us agreed to become partners and rename the company, Just Flight.
We had no office and worked from home, using the internet and meeting up once a month in a hotel to chew stuff over. We were a virtual company before that was even a thing. Those were great days. Mungo was the ideas man, Roger was all about sales and I did everything else. It was fast, furious, frustrating, hilarious and mostly chaotic. When we couldn’t get any magazine coverage for our Flight Sims we decided to set our own specialist print magazine up and called it PC Pilot. When we decided to branch into Train Sims, we set up our own label, Just Trains. Then we decided to branch into strategy games, and set up Just Play. All the time, Mungo, Roger and I would see no barriers and just get on and make things happen. We did a JV in Italy and one in the USA. There was very little time for planning, indeed if I did plan, Mungo took little or no notice, we just had a load of fun. We eventually got an office in Cambridge in 2000, which we shared with PC Pilot and designers Fink Creative. We painted the office and furnished it like it was our own flat way before Google made that stuff cool. We built a shower and kitchen and practically lived in the local boozer, The Champion of the Thames. We often slept in the office, and Mungo and I did many an all-nighter, crunching the impossible workload we had made for ourselves. We shared fantastic times with our mates and fellow workers, Alex Ford, Dermot Stapleton, Olly Hilton, Darryl Fickling, Dan Stoneham, Dale Nicholson, Mark Embleton, Wolfgang Schwarz, Marc Siegel, Ruth Chaloner, Martin Wright, Richard Slater, Simon Martin, Richard Pomfret, Scott Phillips, Paul ‘H’ Hyslop and loads more.
Mungo and I sold PC Pilot in 2003 and agreed to go our separate ways, business wise, in 2004.
Mungo and I with members of 617 The Dambusters, and in the centre Flight Lieutenant Bob Knights DSO, DFC when we launched The Dambusters
But the friendship was never over, just on hold. We had ridden the Cresta Run in St Moritz many times together, indeed Mungo dislocated his shoulder in 2000 crashing off wonderfully on Shuttlecock corner. He never liked the fact that I got the fastest time that year either, and was not in the slightest bit worried about the damage he had done to his body. We went skiing together, we went sky diving together, we ran together, drank together, raved together and he even took me up in his aircraft on a wondrous trip along the south coast taking off from Shoreham.
One of the best nights we had was in LA, at E3 after a party at The Playboy Mansion, when our hire car got towed away by the LAPD. I was incensed at the Old Bill and Mungo had to play the part of peacemaker. When he sweet talked the copper to see reason at the car pound, I sneaked under the gate, grabbed the keys from the desk and managed to drive off without being noticed. I will never forget Mungo’s face as he was distracting the copper only to see me drive off. By all accounts Mungo did his best Lord Charles meets Hugh Grant impersonation and made his excuses, and left, fast. How we never got nicked that night I will never know.
Mungo had some hard times, but was always a man to come up with a plan, thinking big and delivering. As a lifelong Conservative, Mungo had threatened many a Damascene moment and we often talked and disagreed with each other on political issues. But, Mungo had joined the Labour Party in early 2016 in order to support Jeremy Corbyn, Unlike many other Tories who thought would be a wheeze to get Corbyn in, Mungo actually believed in the politics that Corbyn stood for. Ever determined and driven by principle, he was one of five fellow members of the Labour Party who had taken the Labour Party to the High Court in August of last year over the ruling that ‘new’ members did not have a vote in the leadership election if they had joined the party, like Mungo, after January 12th 2016. I saw him the day of the ruling and we had a proper laugh. We embraced shared a few beers and above all laughed. He liked my Brexit protest beard, although felt that Brexit was the right way to go. As I say, we often disagreed on politics. But none of that ever mattered.
He was an eccentric, irascible, infuriating, talented, hilarious, warm, emotional, gentle, kind, precise, and lovely, lovely man. We often joked that we had been brothers in a previous life and felt certain that we would be brothers again the next one. I really hope that is true.
Mungo passed away yesterday, and I got the news of that tragedy early today. I have to admit, I have been pretty numb ever since I heard the news. In 2016 we lost so many talented superstars and the world got pretty dark. Now in 2017, I have lost my little brother superstar. Rest in peace amigo, you made your mark and you spread love and peace to so many. Thank you for the good times, I know you will have a glint in your eye, just like you always did. Shine on you crazy diamond xx
Whatever you feel about the EU referendum which will take place tomorrow, the one thing you should really do is actually vote. Please don’t forget, besides you have from 7am until 10pm tomorrow to put a cross in the box, and cast your single vote to decide if the UK will remain or leave the European Union. And this time, unlike at the general election, everyone’s vote really will count.
Both sides of the argument have chucked a load of statistics at each other for months now, most of which appear to be bordering on lies and all of which has only confused most of us anyway. We have been told that this is all about our democratic right to decide on what laws we want and what politicians we want to rule over us. It’s about the economy and immigration at the end of the day, apparently. And it’s all about ‘taking back control’, whatever that means. Clearly the ‘head’ argument has pretty much lost out to the ‘heart’. Ultimately this argument is actually pretty complicated, much like life itself, yet most people want simple slogans and actions, or simply someone else to blame. Why bother with a set of carefully thought through and even piloted policies when a hashtag will sort it all out in a few minutes on Facebook or Twitter?
Given we are pretty good at irony in the UK, it is pretty ironic that we hear all this stuff around democracy. Our voting system which delivers 650 MPs every five years to set the vast majority of our laws is so broken, it is beyond a joke. When a party wins an overall majority of 331 MPs i.e 50.1% in Parliament on only 36.9% of the votes cast (which was actually 24% of those eligible to vote) you know something is badly wrong. When another party gets only one MP i.e. 0.15% on 12.6% of the overall votes cast, it really is beyond funny. Add in the simple fact that all laws that the MPs pass then have to be passed by an unelected bunch of ‘Lords’ who have all either been appointed by governments, are senior members of one religion in this country or have simply been placed their through their birth right and you suspect that someone is really having a laugh. The problem is they aren’t. It’s the UK’s version of democracy and it is simply far from that. How do less than 4 people in a room of 10 rule the day exactly, shouldn’t it be 6 people who have the majority on 4 every single time?
Then we have immigration, which has become the really toxic and divisive aspect of this referendum. Yes there are lots of people born outside of the UK who live and work here. But we are told every time a ‘Leaver’ opens their mouth that ‘we need to take back control of our borders’. Ignoring the simple fact that there are more arrivals from countries outside the EU than from inside the EU (the truth is often inconvenient) none of these ‘Leavers’ has any actual plan to tell us what sort of numbers they will allow to come here, simply citing some Australian points system which will ride in and save their day. Add the simple fact that we can’t stop people leaving the UK, yet anyway, and this whole exercise becomes somewhat theoretical. When Michael Gove states ‘the British people will decide on the numbers each year’ he not only shows contempt for the issue, he also lies. How exactly are we, the British people, going to decide on how many and who we will allow into the country each and every year? Don’t forget this man has form, just ask an teacher you know what they think of him and his ideas. And that is without any of Farage’s misleading and shameful poster from last week stirring up the fear and loathing. I am not going to waste my time on him.
I understand why people are so angry. I am angry. Yes our NHS is under pressure alongside our schools, housing and our jobs and wages. But to put this at the door of the EU is both simplistic and wrong. Our ‘democratically’ elected government has decided to pursue austerity and reduce investment in our country. We are importing doctors, vets and teachers from all over the world rather than train enough here. In my industry, we need skills to build our technology businesses and we don’t have enough of them to wait until we can train our young people up, so we have to seek them from both the EU and outside of the EU.
So we must invest in people and we should invest in people who live here, and are born here. Don’t blame the EU for this. The UK needs to take a long view, invest in our people through training and skills, build more houses, build more hospitals and GP surgeries, build more schools, build more unity and above all ensure we have a democratic voice that reflects the needs and wants of the people of this country. Vote Leave the EU if you think that will make this happen as I am sure people of the ilk of Michael Gove and Nigel Farage will deliver this vision for you. Or not.
Or vote Remain to ensure we have stability through trade and diplomacy with our nearest neighbours and then demand that our politicians, rather than blaming immigrants and the poor, deliver a society which ensures everyone in this country gets a fair deal and a good life.