After five-and-a-bit years of inventing new kinds of play, Hide&Seek will be closing its doors early in the New Year.
It’s been a privilege to work with so many wonderful people and organisations in that time. To everyone who’s commissioned us, who’s made games with us, or helped us in some way, thank you.
We’re wrapping up our final projects – the last TIny Games Kickstarter rewards, some consultancy, a game for Westminster Council’s Get Home Safe campaign, and a month of games for Kensington Palace- and winding up. Everything we’ve currently committed to – whether to clients, suppliers or players – will be finished over the coming weeks.
I think that, to many people reading this, the news that we’re closing up will come as a surprise… so it bears some explanation as to why.
Hide&Seek was a hopeful, different thing. Not a copy, not an incremental change to the norm. A game studio working in the cultural sector, an arts organisation with a commercial client list, curators and supporters of an emerging network of game designers with an interest in making games for public space. We’ve made festivals, conferences, the saddest thing on the internet, a philosophical Twine game, filled Edinburgh with New Year Games, been featured by Apple, consulted for the likes of Nike and eBay, won awards, spoken at conferences and events around the world. We haven’t kept a very close track, but we’re sure you can number the people who’ve played one of our physical games in the tens of thousands, and one of our digital games in the millions.
The business model that underpinned that work was that of an agency. We got commissions, paid suppliers, and hopefully had enough left over to pay the wage bill. And that worked okay, for a while – the big entertainment projects topped up the low-budget cultural work, and we were small enough to ride out the lean times.
Throughout the life of the studio, we’ve striven to make better games – building our capacity through new hires, keeping a group of talented people together. In particular, we’ve improved the studio’s ability to make digital games. Making a good studio culture – where people are employed, paid fairly, supported – is central to our idea of what Hide&Seek is about.
As austerity has really started to bite, the budgets on offer for the kind of work we do have either disappeared, or reduced by a factor of 10.
You don’t have to be any kind of a smart businessperson (insert joke about me here) to figure out that if your salary bill’s going up, and your income’s going down, you’re going to struggle.
We also knew there was no white knight of public funding out there to help us out. While there is a rhetoric of governmental support for the creative industries, and for cultural organisations that innovate, our experience of funders has been one of diminishing returns. We stopped applying for things after we worked out that if you added up all the studio days that had been spent working on unsuccessful funding applications, you could have hired a whole extra person to work on making games.
Responding to those trends, we planned a pivot to a for-customers model with Tiny Games, and we’ve been trying a bunch of other things behind the scenes. Seriously, a bunch – including pitches to investors, swinging for a huge film license, and talking to anyone we thought might
finance something like the thing we wanted Hide&Seek to be. What we’ve found is that hard-to-categorise thing about us – that diversity, that public-spiritedness, that cultural curiosity – is hard for the market to value.
Despite all that, the brilliant, enterprising people who work for H&S (who you should totally hire, by the way) have all worked the equivalent of three jobs – maintaining our agency work, producing Tiny Games, and helping me pitch H&S as a start-up to investors. One of the reasons for wrapping up slightly sooner than we absolutely had to is to give us time to find new jobs for the team. If you’re hiring, please get in touch with me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would, of course, be possible to keep Hide&Seek going in some form. To let everyone go but ‘keep the brand alive’, ready to phoenix back out of my spare room into some new shape. I think that would be untrue to the ideals of the project. Hide&Seek is the sum of its parts – the shared contribution of a group of people who made games together between 2007 and 2013. Those people are all going to go on and do interesting things (did I mention you should hire them), and I hope carry the ideas and the values that we incubated here to new levels.
While we’re all really, really sad about this – sad that we can’t keep this great group together, sad we won’t make more games – we’re also very proud of the body of work we created, and planning to go out with our heads held high. If you have a good memory of a Hide&Seek game, why not break with 2013 custom and post a comment? We’d love to hear them…