Oak Games Mobile Ltd was formed by Dave and Sian Walker back in 2005 (originally called Oak Systems Leisure Software, then Oak Games Ltd). Based on the Isle of Wight, UK, we are a small company that makes big games.
2020 and in lockdown, finally a bit of time to update the website. Here’s a potted history of Oak Systems Leisure Software, later Oak Games and later still Oak Games Mobile. The highs and lows, hits and turkeys when you go it alone and risk it all in the games industry. Saying that, it’s been the best!!
Dave and I first met in 1999 when he interviewed me for a job which I didn’t get. We did end up working for the same company a year later. We worked on the same team on some pretty dull projects for the pharmaceutical industry. We didn’t even get on that well at first, but then we became really good friends and I have to say he is the cleverest man I have ever met. Even though I left the company in 2003 we kept in touch. In 2005 after a visit to my parents house and noticing this new Sudoku craze in the newspaper I called Dave and said “Do you think you could make a sudoku game”. “WTF is Sudoku he replied”. He made the game in a couple of weeks after work at his day job. Our first baby was named Sudoku Works.
Sudoku Works – 2005
I was a traditionalist and was all for selling it as boxed CDs and posting it, but Dave had already been dabbling with little apps and had been putting them on these new things called download sites!! Well it was a hit, 5,7,9,17 downloads and rising each day and it kept rising. Dave got a call from Tony Hughes the MD at Mindscape in Australia and he offered us our first publisher contract for Australia and NZ territories. it went out as a boxed PC game to retail outlets in the territory that Autumn. It was the top selling game in Australia for 2005, the Christmas hit. Tony knew how to pick a winner and we will always be thankful to him for our first break in the industry. Cheers Tony.
The developers took a very small cut with publishers, they did shift lots of units (we don’t know we are born today with Play, Apple and Facebook only taking a 30% cut). The retail outlets such as HMV, Game, Woolworths, Walmart, Tesco would take the lion share 40-50%, the distributors would take about 10-20, the publisher about 25% 30% and we’d take about 5-10% it was a tough business but the games went out at £9.99 at first so if everybody did their job right we all made money.
Kakuro Unlimited – 2006
Tony introduced us to Mindscape in Europe, based in France who offered us a deal to get a Kakuro game out ASAP, as the appetite for Japanese-type puzzle games was keen at the time.
Puzzle Books – 2006
During this time we were also generating puzzles and I was creating puzzle books in Illustrator for for News stands which would have an accompanying sudoku CD Rom stuck on them. I had a young baby girl, True, at the time and I was breastfeeding her in one arm with my other hand on the mouse creating puzzle books. A bizarre time! Little did I know those puzzle books would save our houses a few years later.
We put forward the idea to Mindscape of doing a deal or no deal game as Dave and I had both visited with parents over Christmas 2005 and they were all obsessed with the show. Having got no joy from Mindscape, Dave cobbled together a quick game called Beat The Banker which we sold on Ebay with a secret download code. It made enough for us to see there was an appetite there for it but we got a cease and desist order slapped on us by Endemol for breach of copyright so that was the end of that. Or was it?
Brain Trainer – 2006
After the success of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on Nintendo there was a race to get a PC version of Brain Training out there. Mindscape in France approached us to create something quickly and get it to market.
We did our research and came up with 16 games in four brain training categories and got the game out for the 2006 Christmas market. It did extremely well and we were top if the French charts that year. We localised the game for UK and European markets with Mindscape and made a 2nd game with a further 16 games and a 3rd. We also made a companion game called Maths Trainer and released our own Brain Workout brand in the UK.
Tony rebranded Brain Trainer for the Australian market with celebrity Dr Penny Adams on the cover. Which became a Christmas hit for them the following year.
We don’t mention Mind Quiz!
Off the back of Brain Trainer we were approached by Ubisoft to rebrand Brain Workout for the USA, Canada and the UK. They had a deal with Nintendo to put the game on that platform and wanted a PC game to sit with the Nintendo offering. We had learned by now to get the biggest non-returnable advance on royalties we could just in case the game tanked and we weren’t left with much in royalties. We managed to negotiate a $50K advance on the game and a reasonable royalty rate. They were a great company to work with and gave us an extra development budget to hire a team of graphic designers to improve the user interface. The only problem was they used Sega to develop the Nintendo version of the game. In the Nintendo version they would display a word of praise each time a user answered a round of questions correctly. The Nintendo version was recalled in the UK and most English speaking territories because they had used the phrase “Super Spastic” in one of these phrases. In the UK spastic is an outdated and derogatory term for someone with Cerebral Palsy. The Spastics Society, a charity for people living with cerebral palsy had already rebranded in the early 90s to Scope because the term was at that point derogatory so for a game to have the word in 2007 was wholly unacceptable. Quite rightly the Nintendo version was recalled and our beautiful PC game, which was entirely different, never saw the light of day. Ubisoft Mind Quiz Wikipedia Article. Phew, glad we got the advance!
We also did a newspaper supplement deal with the Independent Newspaper for a CD version of Brain Trainer and provided some puzzles for a supplement to accompany it. We were thrilled to see our old oak tree logo (which is our favourite tree in Appley Park, Ryde) on the TV, loud and proud on the TV in the commercial break advertising the promotion.
As I mentioned earlier we didn’t have a positive response from Mindscape when we first mentioned Deal or No Deal back in 2006 but they came to us in 2007 and initially asked us to do a PC game for their French version of the show “A Prendre ou a Laisser”.
It was our first move away from our now comfort zone of puzzle games. We had to do scary stuff like timeline animations, Flash, motion graphics, Poser. But we learned them all as quick as we could and rushed out the offering for France. It made me laugh finding a video of people playing it on Youtube. We worried at the time that the characters were fidgeting and scratching their heads to much. TBF it looks like some have a bad case of head lice. Anyhow it went down well at the time and we got the gigs for Italy and Germany too.
Then we got the UK one which we thought would be a wonderful deal to land. It was us, with Mindscape and Endemol.
I had great fun using Poser to make the contestant’s faces. They are named after all our kids (Dixie, Jenny, Bonnie, Isaac and True ((Rio was yet to be born))) and aged up to what I thought they might look like as adults. Prince Harry is in there too as he was my favourite royal. Also some friends such as Keda. Dave and Sian were also originally in the game too but….
The project manager wasn’t tech savvy, and was therefore a bit of an annoyance with unrealistic, diva, pedantic and costly demands at the time. So when she saw the name Sian and assumed it was a homage to herself, as we had the same name, I thought nah I’d rather there be no Sian and not be in my own game than give her the pleasure of thinking I had any respect for her. So we changed Sian to Sue at the last minute. Dave became Bernie in solidarity.
The boxed PC game was number 1 in the charts in Tesco when I was doing my shopping one day. I said to the kids in the trolley “Look there’s our game”. Then one of them started getting agitated and I had to wheel on to the produce aisle. I imagine pop stars had a much better experience when they see their records and CDs in the shops. I see it from time to time in charity shops and have a chuckle.