Theory of Grime | Distribution: How Pirate Radio shaped the characteristics of early Grime

In an otherwise unremarkable evening in the early 2000s, several men and women pour into a small room at the top of a council block in East London. These men and women, predominantly Londoners of Afro-Carribean origin, are seemingly drawn to this rooftop like bees to nectar. Some enter the room and do the rounds, emphatically greeting their peers, others slip in discreetly and take up their positions at the back or in the corners. They’re here for the music – that’s the nectar. 

This box room on top of a tower block in Stratford City, where the Olympic Park now stands is the site of Deja Vu FM – alongside Rinse FM one of the most important locations in the formation and crystallisation of Grime music. Over the course of the hour MCs and hangers on stream into this secret location responding to the call to arms being broadcasted over the London airways – in early Grime proximity was everything. By the end of the hour the room is filled with a Mercury Prize winner, an MBE holder, a convicted murderer, club promoters, a cameraman, several of the most influential artists Grime music’s history alongside numerous MCs that have since faded into obscurity. 

In the traditional telling of this story, the focus is for obvious reasons on two parties in particular, the Mercury Prize winner and the convicted murderer, Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch respectively. This is largely because the shoving match that they get into at the end of the hour happened to be captured by A Plus (the cameraman) and immortalised in DVD form. This combined with the musical back and forth that ensued in the following weeks so captured the imagination of London’s urban population – that Dizzee’s aggravated refrain ‘I’m not a Mook!’ is still relevant enough to be referenced in Skepta’s 2019 album – over 15 years later! However, here we’re not concerned with the 5 minutes of conflict at the end of the DVD but rather the questions that the whole hour raises about the early Grime scene. What motivated all of these people to answer the siren call of the radio station? Why were they willing to risk going to areas where their enemies were? How did it all work and who was making money? Why did so many of these events end in conflict? What changed? 

I’m going to try to answer some of these questions over the course of a few posts using a mixture of primary sources – including radio sets, song lyrics, books, street DVDs and publically available interviews with stakeholders within the scene. In general not many books have been written on Grime and those that have been do not really touch on the incentives underpinning the early scene. I believe that the incentive structure present at Grime’s inception created and shaped some of the features that make it such a unique and admittedly strange genre. This series is my attempt to better understand what exactly formed some of the distinguishing features of a genre that I love, this post will focus on how the scarcity of distribution (i.e. the lack of mainstream radio play and the limitations of Pirate Radio) shaped Grime culture.

Context – Emergence of an underground genre

To understand distribution scarcity in Grime we need to first understand the context from which it emerged. Grime is by definition an underground genre albeit one that has had moments where it has captured significant mainstream attention. Especially in the early 2000s, this meant that none of the music released had more than a remote chance of getting played on national radio, notwithstanding the breakout successes of More Fire Crew, Lethal B, Kano and Dizzee Rascal. While this post is not intended to be a history of Grime, it’s sonic roots have been significantly discussed elsewhere, some of the musical influences informing early grime are important to any meaningful discussion about the characteristics of the early scene. Sonically and culturally Grime can be seen as the result of various musical cultures and influences fusing:

 

  • UK Garage – From an instrumentation perspective Grime is a Genre that evolved out of Garage (an electronic music genre). The transition began in the early 2000s as a crop of Garage crews (most famously the Heartless Crew, the So Solid Crew and the Pay as You Go Cartel) began experimenting at the boundaries of the genre
    • Traditional UK Garage was light-hearted, euphoric, party music. It featured instrumentals that were light in tone and often contained vocal layering, it had a celebratory feel, the fanbase was DJ focused, and the MCs acted as hosts introducing the music, hyping the crowds and getting out of the way.
    • In the early 2000s there was a schism in Garage and crews above began to shift the the sonic template of the Genre. MCs, many of whom were refugees from the earlier Jungle scene) began to innovate incorporating increasingly complex rhymes and rhyme schemes into their sets. DJs began accommodating for this selecting more ‘open’ riddims (instrumentals) which provided room for MCs to perform uninterrupted by backing vocals. Producers began changing the tone of their instrumentals (though importantly preserving the speed) making it darker in a seeming bid to reflect the content that the MCs were rapping about – this shift in tone led to Grime (at this point an unnamed genre) sometimes being called Darker Garage.
    • To illustrate just how important the transition from Garage to early Grime was one can just look at the legacy of the Pay as You Go Cartel. While strictly speaking a Garage Crew, its members seeded many of the dominant Grime Crews in the early period spawning Special Delivery, Mucky Wolfpack and most importantly Roll Deep while being involved in East Connection and the Musketeers. Almost all of the early Grime artists came out of the Garage scene and most of them were acutely aware of the schism occurring, indeed Wiley’s first single ‘Wot U Call It’ (referring to the so far unnamed genre) is a comment on the split itself – In the song’s own words ‘I’ve heard they dont like me in Garage // Cos I used their scene to make our own sound’
  • Jungle
    • Many of the MCs and DJs that founded Grime in the transition era were former Jungle artists who had transitioned to Garage for a combination of reasons. These included the Garage’s rise in popularity in the late 90s, Jungle being a semi closed shop where the most popular artists kept newcomers away from the main stations and events, and lastly because Jungle itself began a sonic transition to Drum and Bass losing a lot of it’s more melodic aspects
    • These MCs entered the Garage scene with Jungle mindsets, meaning that they came with more complex rhymes and schemes as well as grittier content
    • It is in part the prevalence of these Jungle refugees that helped create the darker, grittier and more lyrically inclined subgenre of Garage that eventually evolved into Grime – one of the key features imported included prevalence of MCs rapping in Patois (Carribean Slang)
  • Dancehall – A high proportion of early Grime artists were of Carribean descent and consequently the influence of Dancehall and soundsystem culture permeates through the genre providing the blueprint for behaviours including
    • The prevalence of soundclashes – these are clearly imported from Dancehall events such as Sting
    • The importance of reloads (or forwards) – where the DJ restarts the song or instrumental to dissipate excitement / tension in the crowd
    • The idea of cutting multiple versions of the same song – where several different MCs would record vocals over the same instrumental making their own individual versions of the song which would then be sold via specialist record stores
      • In 2003 for example Wiley released 2 4-song EPs for the Ice Rink instrumental providing vocal mixes from 8 different artists (EP1 and EP2)
  • Hip Hop – though its influence is less direct than the other genres already mentioned, you can tell that the majority of Grime artists were Hip Hop listeners. And that, despite the tempo being faster – the lyrics, rhyming patterns, instrumentals and even the clothes the artists wore all provide clear evidence of Hip Hop’s influence. For example
    • Skepta’s legendary ‘Serious Thugs’ instrumental is a Grime remix of Hip Hop Group Bone Thugs n Harmony’s song  ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone
    • In a Sidewinder Studio Set you can hear the Meridian Crew (JME and Skeptas’ initial crew) MCing over instrumentals from the Harlem Hip Hop group The Diplomats
    • There is even a Dizzee Rascal radio set where you can hear him mimic the flow of and interpolate lyrics from now deceased New Orleans rapper Soulja Slim’s song Soulja 4 Life – just compare this (Soulja Slim) with this (Dizzee Rascal)

 

What is most important when thinking about the spread of Grime, however, is its evolution from UK Garage and Jungle and it’s inheritance of these genres’ distribution methods. In the late 1990s to the early 2000s, Garage was a genre which straddled the underground and mainstream. The elements of it that evolved into Grime were largely on the underground side (i.e. less Craig David more So Solid Crew), and this meant that like Grime they had limited to no legal radio play whatsoever – it meant reliance on Pirate Radio.

Understanding Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio is perhaps the most important part of the Grime distribution puzzle. These illegal stations acted as the primary distribution channel for the music, and thus the music to an extent was shaped by their features and limitations. Pirate Radio stations were inferior to traditional ones in several ways:

  • The equipment was usually makeshift and thus low quality – reducing the clarity of the sound
  • They were limited in range and thus the core audiences were necessarily hyperlocal
  • The equipment was regularly taken down by the DTI a government body in charge of policing the airwaves
  • They were funded without advertising, but instead by the MCs and DJs themselves who paid subs for the right to be on air using the Pirate’s facilities
    • Radio stations would also make money through hosting events. Deja Vu FM for example had the Young Man Standing series of raves – these were often promoted on air by having a special Young Man Standing radio set featuring an all star cast of MCs, many of whom would be booked at the actual event in the evening
    • Deja Vu itself was at one point located inside Club EQ in Stratford and was operated by the club’s management.
  • It was impossible to measure the audience sizes on a Pirate
    • That being said, many stations did have a mobile phone number which was used a way of allowing audience interaction. While they were live, listeners would deliberately force a missed call to show their excitement as well as texting in encouragement, abuse and shoutouts to the artists 
  • Perhaps most importantly to Grime culture, Pirates were illegal meaning that disputes where handled in an ad hoc way
    • Power generally accrued to those with the most physical force behind them

However Pirates did present some advantages / unique innovations:

  • The programming was completely live and the DJ’s were able to mix freely leading to a much more club like atmosphere
  • There was little censorship
  • The geographic limitations of the broadcasting equipment necessarily created a local feel to the content – with the MCs and crews being local celebrities
  • The inability to gauge audience size unlocked more artistic freedom and experimentation – as well as encouraged more risk taking behaviours such as clashing

These factors all coalesced making the Pirates a hivebed for musical creativity, a petri dish for early Grime. What the features of this distribution channel did to the culture of the genre and behaviour of the participants, however, is a whole different story. 

While the Pirates were geographically limited in scope, they were still the only musical outlet for aspiring underground musicians across the UK’s ‘Urban’ areas. Thus there was always a queue of people waiting to take your slot on the radio station if you weren’t there. This was the era just before illegal music piracy became mainstream, before streaming services allowed an artist to publish a song and have it available everywhere, before social media was a viable method of attracting or informing fans. Thus the artists turned to the only outlets they had, their hyper local radio stations and even paid for the privilege to do so.

Having a slot on a popular Pirate was the lifeblood of a successful Grime artist’s career. Despite having to pay money to be there, it was the only advertising channel available to an artist and unlocked the limited economic opportunities that were in Grime (namely show bookings and vinyl sales) therefore the various artists were willing to do so (or try to sneak in without paying). Pirates were the predominant means of marketing for the artists, both to consumers and to show bookers. 

The strength of the desire to be on a Pirate is illustrated in the song ‘1999’ by Grime crew Ruff Sqwad – in which Shifty Rydoz mentions paying £5 each time he went to Heat FM in the year 2000. On the surface this seems like a run of the mill anecdote, but there are several factors that make it remarkable. Firstly, assuming Shifty is the same age as crewmate Tinchy Stryder, this means that he would have been 12-13 in 2000. Secondly, assuming he had 1 radio slot per week, that equates to £260 in subs a year for that station alone. Thirdly, getting to the radio was not easy, Heat was in Tottenham (North London) and the Ruff Sqwad members lived in Bow (East London) a 50+ minute commute away. Assuming £2 a week on travel (London buses weren’t free for under 16s until 2005) he would have spent ~£100 a year just to get there. Lastly, it was materially dangerous, being ‘caught slipping’ in deprived parts of London that you were not from. MCs ran a real risk of being robbed or worse on their way to and from the stations – Heat FM specifically has been described as a ‘death trap’ as there was only one bus route in and out of the area. The fact that 12-13 year old aspiring musicians were willing to spend £350+ a year, to cross London and in a real sense to risk their safety to be on Pirates illustrates just how core it was to unlocking the opportunities in the scene.

Grime artists were clearly at a minimum subconsciously aware of this and there are a number of behaviours and tactics they adopted to maximise the amount of radio time they had as well as its marketing impact. If you listen to old Grime radio sets the telltale signs are everywhere, with tactics employed including:

  • Forming crews
  • Set crashing
  • Fighting over the microphone
  • ‘Warring’

I’m going to try to unpack the underlying logic behind these various tactics below.

Forming Crews

In the early era of Grime almost all of the artists were part of a crew, given that at present most of the active artists are crewless, it’s clear that something about the structure of the scene changed making crews obsolete.

The most obvious reason for the existence of crews was maximising attention from any given slot on the radio. You may not have heard of Trim but you might be a massive fan of Wiley so in the end you tune in to the Roll Deep set and end up leaving a fan of both. If Trim had been on his own you may not have listened at all. Now couple this with the fact that many of the artists had individual fanbases and followings from before they joined their crews and it’s clear that crews were an obvious way for artists to cross pollinate each other’s fanbases. Grime artists were essentially bundling together several different styles to give their radio slots the maximum appeal.

This, however, does not on its own explain why crews have all but disappeared, as there is nothing to suggest that the cross pollination effect of crews should no longer persist. What, however, has changed is the fact that consumers now have an unprecedented amount of choice in what they can listen to. This combined with the reality that artists now have global reach thanks to the internet eliminates the scarcity of audiences that necessitated crews. In 2004 if you wanted to listen to Trim, you could try to buy a dubplate (a vinyl record) from a specialty record store (if you were lucky enough to live close enough to one) or you could tune into the Roll Deep Show on Rinse FM and hope he was on, and that would only work if you were close enough to East London to tune in to Rinse. Nowadays you can listen to Trim’s whole catalogue on Spotify whenever and wherever you want to – no more need to try to catch him plus whoever he happens to be with on a Pirate.

From Trim’s perspective his reach is also far wider than in 2004. With the internet Trim is able to amass and reach an international fanbase without the approval of a major record label or the need for mainstream radio play. In 2019 Trim can reach all of the people who might like his music on his own. There is no need for Trim to piggyback on Wiley’s popularity to reach new fans (or vice versa), not with the ability to reach every possible Trim fan worldwide. Hence the internet killed the Grime crew.

It must be noted that crews served other purposes, for example they also provided protection both physically (in the case of set crashings and violence) and figuratively (in lyrical warfare) – there’s safety in numbers. Trim from Roll Deep famously left the crew claiming that a fellow member failed to back him during a physical altercation – the crew no longer served its purpose so there was no need to remain in it. However, the key takeaway here is that crews were largely a marketing device used by artists to amplify their reach in an era of limited distribution.

Set crashing

Different DJs and crews had ownership of certain time slots in a Pirate Radio station’s programming (the legendary Nasty Crew, for example, held the Monday 8-10pm slot on Deja Vu FM). Consequently, MCs who were not invited to a particular time slot would often turn up to the radio during another group’s set and force their way onto the microphone, through any combination of clout, fear and friendship. In a 2016 interview early Grime MC Stamina Boy’s cavalier explanation of how he used to crash sets demonstrates how just normalised it was – You could be out doing whatever… you turn the radio on… [and realise someones] on Deja Vu… you [would then] just roll [and] jump on the set’. When talking about the motivations for doing this he says, ‘When I had my proper following… that’s what it developed from, the crashing of sets’. These were artists who were just trying to be heard – so they could sell their music or get booked. 

From the listener’s perspective set crashing was amazing. Every set was a variety show of sorts. You would have the staple crew who you had tuned in to listen to, plus the added mystery of who else would turn up, both invited or uninvited guests. This kept sets from getting stale and kept people tuning in to hear novel combinations of artists going back to back. Tuning in and hearing all of your favourites together was a real possibility despite them not being in the same crews. Moreover, given the competitive dynamics of Grime, set crashing opened up the possibility of spontaneous clashes emerging, where a ‘warring’ MC would turn up to another’s set unannounced to clash them. Examples of this involve Trim turning up to former crew mate Flowdan’s set and clashing him in January 2008 (after being called out on air for the best part of 40 mins) as well as Wiley doing the same to Trim almost 2 years later. With occurrences like these, the listener really had an incentive to tune in to the radio – you didn’t want to miss a thing.

The prevalence of set crashing made being part of a crew all the more important. This is another reason why almost all of the artists were part of crews – there was safety in numbers both when you’re crashing a set and when your set is being crashed. A famous example of a hijacking gone wrong is when the Musketeers, a lesser known crew attempted to force their way onto an East Connection Set on Deja Vu Fm – the end result of this attempt was a set of broken DJ decks, 2 bricks in the East Connection DJ’s car window and most damningly the entire Grime scene being banned from the Pirate Radio station.

Set crashing was a key way for an artist to be everywhere and being everywhere meant more sales and more bookings. Instead of being on the radio for 2 hours a week you could be on as long as the radio was on, and with no recourse to law enforcement this tool turned into a free for all. In the long run Grime artists’ incentives to set crash were unsustainable and did damage to the scene as a whole despite helping the individual perpetrators. 

In 2003 for example, MCs got banned from Rinse FM for regularly turning up in droves. In a 2014 interview DJ Geneeus, one of Rinse’s founders stated “The MCs just kept turning up. I’d arrive and there’d be 20 people in there. I knew we’d either get caught or someone was going to do something bad to someone else.” This was surprisingly prescient as just a few weeks later the fight between Crazy Titch and Dizzee Rascal mentioned earlier erupted on the rooftop at Deja Vu FM. According to Sharky Major, he and Titch were sitting at home listening to Deja Vu, heard what sounded like an interesting set and immediately headed over to Stratford to participate, at the time Titch had just come out of jail and wanted to build his name. In 2007, MCs were banned from Rinse again for similar reasons, one rumored incident preceding this second ban involved DJ Spooky of the Slew Dem Crew kicking down the door of the station in a bid to gain entry after having been denied it.

Set crashing as a behaviour, though perfectly rational, ultimately destroyed Grime Artists’ core marketing channel at the time. What is particularly tragic is that Pirate Radio being the core route to market, was the very reason why Grime artists were incentivised to ruin it. Set crashing as a phenomenon is a very interesting case of the tragedy of the commons – individuals acting in their own interests essentially destroyed the utility of radio for their entire class of users. This loss of radio access, first Deja Vu then Rinse, was one of the key factors contributing to the rapid decline of Grime from prominence in the late 2000s. 

Fighting over the microphone

This dynamic is most obvious in the few videos there are of the early scene – as MCs are performing you can often see more than 3 hands grasping at the microphone, with some even securing a light hold on it in an attempt to ensure that it goes to them next. In the first Young Man Standing all-star set you can hear the whole room shouting at Big Narstie for holding onto the mic for 3 entire minutes and vowing to not pass him the mic again – less than 10 minutes later you hear Narstie again microphone in hand (albeit for a much shorter length of time). The purpose of all this jockeying for the mic is summarised so clearly by an exasperated Remerdee (a member of Essentials a lesser known crew from South East London) over an hour later, who, after winning a tug of war over the microphone exclaims, “It’s not fair! Nah nah nah! We need to spit now blood! You lot are big already! You lot are big already! You’re big already! Let us spit! Let us spit! Let the new ones spit!” before launching into a flurry of lyrics.

Being on the radio was the route out of invisibility for these artists, it was how they sold their vinyls, got booked for shows and maybe even an album deal. Therefore to an MC – not much could be worse than crossing London, going through areas that are dangerous to you, paying subs and getting within reach of the microphone that could make you famous but then failing to perform. That being said, surprisingly few of these tug of wars resulted in any escalation of conflict but when they did they could be explosive. The incident captured in the DVD mentioned at the start ostensibly was caused by Crazy Titch refusing to pass Dizzee Rascal the microphone on time and Dizzee Rascal pushing him as a result.

Warring

‘Warring’ can be broken down into 2 main activities ‘sending’ and its cousin ‘clashing’. These represent 2 sides of the same coin and both remain a prominent feature of the Grime scene.

‘Sending’ or ‘Slewing’ is the process of calling someone out (usually another musician) or insulting someone. In this instance I am using it to refer to the act of doing it to someone who isn’t present and thus cannot respond in real time – though in reality a lot of the terms blend into one another. Sends are normally delivered live over the radio or as a recorded song (often called a war dub). 

Clashes, on the other hand, are not dissimilar to a rap battles. As opposed to sending, for a clash to occur both parties need to be present. They then proceed to perform lyrics aimed at each other back to back essentially in a bid to outclass the other performer – in most cases it is difficult to tell who actually won. Clashes often came after multiple instances of both sides sending for each other, ostensibly serving as a way of deciding who is better. That being said, several notable clashes have happened spontaneously (e.g. the Ghetto vs Nappa clash in first Young Man Standing radio set) while others occurred solely for sport (this is the premise of the Lord of the Mics series).

While competitive outlets exist in other genres such as rap (which has a rich history of diss tracks and battles), what is remarkable about the early Grime scene is the sheer frequency of wars. The artists were at war so often and with so many people that it has to be concluded that more often than not they were artificially looking for conflict. Examples of ridiculous pretexts for wars include:

    • Wiley vs. Dirty Doogz over Wiley ‘using/stealing’ the word ‘again’
    • Wiley vs. Lethal B over Wiley ‘using/stealing’ the word ‘roads’
    • Various MCs calling each other untalented (in less polite words) with little to no provocation
    • Wiley vs. the entire Movement Crew apparently because they didn’t let him join

Moreover the prevalence of crews increased the surface area of these conflicts. Often MCs uninvolved in the root war entered the fray on behalf of their crew mates leading to wider scale inter-crew battles.

This is not to say that all conflict in Grime was unserious or manufactured. Despite the incident that precipitated the ‘War’ being trivial, the actions of the warring parties would at times escalate tensions to the point of violence. There are enough reports of people getting stabbed, beaten up, dangled off buildings and shot at over war to give one pause.

It is hard to overstate how much ‘war’ was a feature of Grime sets from the early era. The combination of sending and clashing served 2 purposes for the participants. The former, by not requiring one’s target’s physical presence was possible to do constantly, especially given Pirate Radio’s lack of censorship. This combined with the fact that conflict and drama are huge drivers of engagement (just see Donald Trump’s Twitter feed for proof) essentially turned Grime radio into Eastenders. The artists were fully complicit in this – in a 2016 interview founding member of Nasty Crew Sharky Major states that Wiley had made it known (amongst the MCs) that he was trying to make the scene more interesting for the listeners through lyrical conflict and he was more than willing to instigate conflict with or without the consent of his opponents (though he would often phone them post-instigation to inform them that it wasn’t personal). As stated in Wiley’s own lyrics he was ‘looking for the top boys in every crew’.

MCs sent frequently, reacting to the most minor infractions and colluding to manufacture ‘wars’, because in this era all publicity was good publicity. Less known MCs would often ‘send’ for more prominent MCs, the ‘Top Boys’, to try to earn a response from them and boost their profile. Sharky Major, for example recalls Ghetts (formerly Ghetto) calling him from jail in 2003 asking who he needed to send for upon release to get his name bigger – it apparently worked because by to 2007 after wars with Flirta D, Wiley and Skepta he was indisputably one of the biggest artists in the scene and had released 2 albums. 

Sending involved MCs going to the Pirate station to call people donuts, snitches and much worse, to insult their target’s friends and family and to broadcast malicious rumours about their opponent. At its best all of this was done with remarkable inventivity, wit and using the medium of music and rhyme. In this era the MCs were extremely productive and would ostensibly spend every minute they weren’t on the mic coming up with new ways to assassinate their chosen enemy’s character.They had to because they could be sure that their opponent was at home doing the same. What, however, added even more electricity to the music emanating from these seemingly petty conflicts was how dangerous it could be. While the starting point of the conflict was often trivial, a lot of the lyrics used were not and it was not uncommon for the act of war to create actual animosity between MCs. This angst combined with both the lack of legal recourse available and the fact that an MC’s opponent knew exactly where they were broadcasting the slander from added a palpable risk to the act. Sending was not boring to tune into because there was a real sense of risk – artists were essentially trading their safety for notoriety. Something that Wiley found out when he got assaulted live on Rinse FM in 2006 having spent the best part of an hour slandering God Gift over the airwaves

Clashing meanwhile created some of the most memorable moments in Grime. It is many of these moments that were taped live and recirculated widely enough that they are still making their way onto the internet to this day more than a decade later. If sending is the trash talking before a boxing match, clashing is the fight itself. An analogy proven out in the very existence of the Lord of the Mics DVD (LOTM) series. You can view LOTM as a pay per view Grime event that has lifted its monetisation model from boxing, the artists even do promo runs before the DVD release to try and generate buzz for their clashes.

Grime artists and promoters were acutely aware of the draw of clashes and consequently held several of them at raves instead of on the radio. The artists essentially would send to promote the clash and then have the clash at a show to ensure it sold out and provide additional entertainment on the night. They were clearly monetising their conflict. For example, one of the first Grime clashes, Wiley vs Dirty Goodz occurred at Wiley’s first Eskimodance rave in 2002 after weeks of buildup on the radio. Thankfully this clash was recorded and widely distributed on a tapepack, but there are countless others that occured in clubs and radio sets across the 2000s that are completely lost to history. Perhaps this last point is why MCs were so willing to clash, there were limited long term consequences for losing unless you happened to be recorded. 

Rounding up

Over the course of this post we’ve seen that many of the features that differentiate Grime did not come into being randomly. Instead they are a result of the early scene’s incentive structure, which was largely shaped by the dominance of Pirate Radio. This reliance on a few Radio stations created scarcity and this scarcity created a form of hypercompetition for both space on the Pirates and publicity from each radio set as artists tried to generate the attention needed to unlock monetary opportunities. This meant that not only were they incentivised to pay for the privilege of being on the radio but they were willing to do much more. From engaging in several manufactured ‘lyrical wars’ simultaneously, to crossing London to hijack radio sets in hostile areas, to forming crews for a mixture of mutual promotion and self-defence, Grime in its nascent faze was the product of its environment. Its environment was Pirate Radio and Pirate Radio was scarce.

Learning from Neek Capital & Opening the Second Cohort

In April this year, I launched Neek Capital, a pro bono service offering free advice aimed at Black founders of early stage businesses in the UK. The experience has been instructive both in its successes and its failings – I will be using these to evolve the service reflecting what I’ve learnt so far. The 2 main findings are as follows.

Finding 1: One month is not long enough to have a significant impact

  • Juggling the help I was offering with my own full time employment and the schedules of founders proved challenging
  • It took a month in total to create a strong enough mental picture of the business to comfortably be able to provide advice
  • In the end I spent 3 months working with the first startup selected (May – end of July) rather than working with 3 startups in 3 months
  • Solution: From now on I will take companies on for a 3 month period

Finding 2: Lots of action is not necessarily correlated to maximum impact

  • One of the first things I did for the company I helped was build a crude operating model (we can put this down to ex Investment Banking bias….)
  • I quickly realised a few things
    • At this stage the business model was not well defined enough for the model to provide any meaningful clarity
    • Although creating the model felt good and was of some use – I wasn’t fully equipping the founders with the skills to maintain this model
  • I felt that walking the founders through the thought process behind the model and (thus the business) across multiple calls was much more helpful
    • i.e. prompting them to think about how different aspects of their businesses were interlinked and about the relationship between revenue and costs
  • Also more useful than the modelling process was helping the founders craft the narrative that they planned to present investors and define what they thought made their business unique
  • Solution: Focus from day 1 on strategic questions and skills that can persist without my presence in the future – modelling may form part of this process but is not obligatory

The revamped program

In all I have really enjoyed working on Neek Capital for the past 3 months and am looking to begin working with another promising startup. In this light I am re-opening the application process – for which you can see the details below.

What is Neek Capital:

Neek Capital is a service primarily aimed at UK Black Founders in the early stage (seed or pre-seed for now). I am undertaking to provide my services / advice for free to 1 founder/company for 3 months every 3 months to help in the areas of strategy and finance (note NOT accounting).

My experience:

I have extensive experience in the world of finance, fundraising and strategy. I spent 3 years working as and Investment Banker and have spent the last year working in Business Strategy for a high growth startup. These are skills I believe are of great use to early stage founders who may not have the knowhow to put together a model, or a pitch deck or even evaluate their business plan in a rigorous / objective way.

How to apply:

  • Every 3 months I will open applications to the general public and receive applications for help
  • Application should be sent to me via email at neekcapital@gmail.com
  • Applications will contain
    1. Business description: Including if relevant
      1. Name
      2. Number of founders
      3. Funding raised
      4. Product / market description
      5. Thesis – Why you think the business will work
    2. Description of the type of help requested
      1. Specific requests are good
      2. Please keep these within the areas of Strategy and Finance examples include:
        1. Help putting together business plan
        2. Help making an early financial model
        3. Help determining the size of the market
        4. Help looking into go to market strategy
        5. Help making materials for a fundraise
        6. Help choosing which investors to reach out to
  • I will decide which founder I am helping and communicate with the other founders who I unfortunately won’t be able to work with
  • Please note that all help will be provided in partnership with the business founder
    • At the end of the day it is your business and I will need your input over the course of the months to make something useful and tailor it your needs

Applications are open now! I hope to decide which founding team I will be helping by September 8, so please send them in.

Transforming AGOV & introducing Neek Capital

As some of you have doubtless noticed, I haven’t posted in a while. Over the past 2 years I came to the sad realisation that I had become far too removed from the world of video games to talk about them with the level of insight that I deem satisfactory for publication. It transpires that given the pressures of my life and my other goals I just do not play games or read about them enough to generate a steady stream of topics for me to populate a blog with.

Consequently, I have decided to shift the focus of the blog to my wider interests. It will ultimately be more general, however, the lens through which I view things will likely remain grounded in business strategy and finance (it’s all i know!). Currently my interests are primarily Grime music, startups, touch rugby and bouldering – and given that the latter 2 aren’t really suited to business analysis I will likely be blogging about the first 2 going forward. I have some pretty interesting ideas about Grime in particular which I would love to unpack.

I am also taking the opportunity to launch a new project. As it stands I have extensive experience in the world of finance, fundraising and strategy. I spent 3 years working as and Investment Banker and have spent the last year working in Business Strategy for a high growth startup. These are skills I believe are of great use to early stage founders who may not have the knowhow to put together a model, or a pitch deck or even evaluate their business plan in a rigorous / objective way. Therefore I am launching Neek Capital – a service primarily aimed at UK Black Founders in the early stage (seed or pre-seed for now). I am undertaking to provide my services / advice for free to 1 founder/company a month to help in the areas of strategy and finance (note NOT accounting).

Note the frequency may change once we start I will get a better idea of how much work it is

How it works:

  • Every month I will open applications to the general public and receive applications for help the can send the application via email to neekcapital@gmail.com
  • Applications will contain
    1. Business description: Including if relevant
      1. Name
      2. Number of founders
      3. Funding raised
      4. Product / market description
      5. Thesis – Why you think the business will work
    2. Description of the type of help requested
      1. Specific requests are good
      2. Please keep these within the areas of Strategy and Finance examples include:
        1. Help putting together business plan
        2. Help making an early financial model
        3. Help determining the size of the market
        4. Help looking into go to market strategy
        5. Help making materials for a fundraise
        6. Help choosing which investors to reach out to
  • I will decide which founder I am helping and communicate with the other founders who I unfortunately won’t be working with that month
  • One month later I will re-open applications
  • Please note that all help will be provided in partnership with the business founder
    • At the end of the day it is your business and I will need your input over the course of the month to make something useful and tailor it your needs

What’s in it for me:

  • I am generally interested in startups
  • It is great for my CV – if I ultimately want to move into venture capital
  • I may ultimately turn it into a business
  • It helps to create generational wealth and ownership in the black community

I’m very excited to start this new chapter and would like to announce that applications are open today. So please send you applications to neekcapital@gmail.com in accordance with the details above.

 

 

 

Do feed the animals: The gaming sector as tech’s underutilized springboard

There has been a lot of recent confusion surrounding Improbable, the UK software unicorn backed by a16z and most recently, Softbank to the tune of over $500m. I’ve heard it characterised as a gaming company, an AI company, even a VR startup and consequently began trying to unpack the source of this confusion. Improbable is what it describes itself as, a company that provides software that helps create virtual worlds. The confusion seems to stem from a combination of the width of this description and the company’s trajectory and business objectives.

The width of the ‘creating virtual worlds’ is one of the key drivers of mystique around the company. It is a phrase that can be readily interpreted narrowly or widely, one narrow interpretation of the concept leads to viewing Improbable and gaming company based on seeing virtual worlds as game worlds. On the other hand the wide conception sees virtual worlds as just that, worlds that do not physically exist. Improbable really sits under this conception – the company’s software is suited for the creation of both game worlds and simulated environments in general. The width of the offering has, however, been artificially obscured by the company’s initial focus on the gaming sector as its anchor market. This initial focus is still illustrated by the fact that its product lines are split into ‘Spatial OS for games’ and ‘Spatial OS for business’.

This whole confusion led me to wonder why a tech company would position itself as a gaming company initially and subsequently expand into everything else. What, if anything, was unique about gaming that made it best suited for the rollout?

This post answers this question arguing that a games first go to market (like Improbable’s) is genius as the sector, by virtue of being the confluence of art and technology is the perfect incubator for technological innovations with wider applications and is definitely something that more investors and founders should have in their playbooks. 

Why does gaming work?

I would argue that the gaming is an industry that possesses unique characteristics that make it the perfect training ground for technological innovation. This stems from gaming’s unique position as a melange of technology and art, which allows even the smallest technological improvements to create value to the customer, where they otherwise wouldn’t.

A way of illustrating this is by comparing a pure simulation tech company with, for example Improbable.

A pure simulation company that has for instance built out software that looks at the impact of changes in roads taking into account only traffic data, would likely struggle to justify expanding its software to also take into account additional factors (such as the school run, or events) apart from those deemed particularly material (e.g. pedestrians, traffic lights, road works). This difficulty stems from the fact that the incremental improvement to an enterprise buyer (say a government department) would seldom justify the cost of developing such improvements by the software companies. These improvements, would likely be prohibitively expensive in an enterprise or consumer context, and each individual improvement would likely be immaterial.

Improbable’s approach, however, has some significant advantages. Because games are art-tech and compete as such, there is value in incremental improvement insofar as it furthers the art. It is this phenomenon that allows game developers to successfully monetise annual iterations of the same game with only some minor tweaks or slight graphical improvements. When a consumer purchases FIFA 2018 having purchased the 2017 version the year before, they are not purchasing the incremental technological improvement (that would be too miniscule to make sense), they are in fact purchasing a better form of art.

The fact that the art is improved by incremental technological advance is an incidental fact to the consumer but understood by developers and publishers. This fundamental calculus by the business side of the gaming industry creates a perpetual arms race in the industry as companies attempt to improve their art by way of tech. Consequently the industry, able to monetise incremental and even marginal technological innovation as art, will much more happily pay for it than other sectors. Making it the perfect industry for tech companies attempting to develop deep tech capabilities.

Improbable by initially targeting gaming and MMO l developers took the ramp rather than scaling the mountain. This allowed the company to develop its simulation platform able to point to a captive market for each incremental improvements where a traffic simulation company likely couldn’t. While perhaps the traffic simulation company would have been able to aggregate enough marginal improvements to make its product much more compelling, the journey to this ‘critical mass’ of improvements is more expensive and more likely to fail a short term cost benefit analysis. In the best case scenario for our traffic simulation company, it faces a significant time lag between technological improvement and validation where a gaming focused company would experience validation as it rolls out capabilities.

A compelling example of this concept at work in reality is the use of GPUs in artificial intelligence. One could make a compelling argument that the reason Nvidia’s technology was mature and sophisticated enough to be suitable for the vector computing requirements of modern AI was largely due to the fact that gamers’ desire for greater graphical fidelity provided the necessary market allowing Nvidia to continue the improvement of their hardware. I would argue that if Nvidia’s principal market was AI, the company would likely not have reached the heights it has currently achieved, primarily due to a lack of market for an early stage iteration of its product. In this sense AI (and Nvidia) has benefited from the perpetual market for iterative improvement provided by gaming.

I consequently implore, prospective technology entrepreneurs seeking to build out deep capabilities over a relatively protracted period of time to seriously consider using the gaming industry as the incubator for their nascent technology. It is clearly better to develop an advanced physics engine for a market of those obsessed with the reality and fidelity of in game physics for the sake of art than for a property developer or manufacturer obsessed with the strength of his/her bottom line.

Where’s Netflix? Why a cloud-gaming giant is unlikely to materialise

Why is Netflix so successful?

Instrumental to Netflix’s success is the superiority of its offering versus the incumbent Pay-TV operators and DVD rental services. Netflix has been able to disrupt Pay-TV operators so effectively because it offers a non-linear service. By allowing customers to curate their own TV, Netflix and other VOD services have a palpable advantage over linear TV services. Where a linear TV service must select programming that appeals to the widest audience (and consequently leave some customers underserved at any given time), VOD services are able to satisfy all users at all times. By connecting the users directly to content and giving them the ability to watch it at their own pace, streaming not only serves customers better, but also allows companies to monetise otherwise unprofitable / niche content. The advantages of Netflix versus DVD rental are even more evident. Because streaming provided a frictionless way of gaining access to video content, it erased the need to have specific equipment (i.e. DVD or Blu-ray players), got rid of the lag time between the wanting to view content and being able to view it, and gave consumers access to a content library far superior to that which could be housed in any single store, moreover it eliminated a lot of the hassle related to DVD rental (returns, late fees etc.).

In addition to the advantages of streaming as a content delivery mechanism, the lethargic reaction of competitors (Blockbuster etc.) allowed Netflix to establish dominance in this new segment with relatively limited hindrance. Where content creators could have limited Netflix’s access to their libraries, thus reducing the attractiveness of the platform, they instead licensed it content that they were unable to monetise effectively themselves (due to the linear nature of Pay-TV). In essence “networks [were] far more concerned with protecting their lucrative paid-TV revenue than with propping up their streaming initiatives”. By allowing VOD services to populate their libraries with their content, networks unwittingly allowed Netflix and its ilk to gain control of their end users.  This ultimately created a virtuous cycle for VOD providers as, having ceded control of their end-users, the networks became increasingly dependent on licensing revenues where previously they would have relied on subscribing customers.

For cloud-gaming, however, questions remain around the chances of there being a disruptive service in the current market conditions. Currently the market is largely dominated by the traditional business model where players buy the games they want to play outright. Even though there is an ongoing shift from physical to digital ownership, the way games are monetised has not changed much, other than disintermediating third party retailers. For the most part, forays into subscription based models have been carried out by the traditional console makers (although Nvidia has also been active in this area), however, such ventures have largely been bundled with other services or have been positioned as a supplementary offering. Analysis of the gaming services that have sprung up in the wake of the media streaming revolution, shows not only that cloud-gaming is a long way from truly disrupting the traditional distribution model, but also that there are some significant barriers in the industry’s structure that significantly reduce the likelihood of successful disruption going forward.

The services currently on offer

Nvidia’s subscription GeForce Now cloud-gaming service most resembles the video gaming equivalent of Netflix. The service allows subscribers to stream a library of 100 games without the need for installations, discs etc., but with the caveat that one of Nvidia’s Shield boxes is necessary to do so. While the service is promising from a quality standpoint, allowing 4K gameplay, the platform faces significant structural difficulties around content and user acquisition. Versus Netflix or Spotify, it is difficult for Nvidia to acquire subscribers via traditional means (discounts, trial periods etc.) as the service is only available on Nvidia hardware. A prospective subscriber must first get over the $200 cost of the hardware before then paying for the monthly streaming service. Couple this prohibitive upfront cost with Nvidia being relatively unproven as a console maker, and the platform’s limited library versus the traditional consoles (the platform currently has c.100 titles), and it becomes hard to see how Nvidia will be able to convert users to their platform. These user acquisition problems simultaneously make it difficult to gain content, as developers have no incentive to expend time and capital making games for a little used platform, creating a vicious cycle limiting Nvidia’s prospects of success with their cloud gaming platform.

Nvidia’s underlying problem is that it does not ultimately have control of the user, that control is currently vested in the incumbent console makers and publishers. Publishers (as a class) have control over the end-user because they ultimately create the product that users desire. However, their individual power is limited by the fact that they don’t control the means of play, for example it would be absurd for a publisher, even one the size of Activision, to move to exclusively support a platform with few users. In a similar vein, console makers capture the consumer by providing the means of playing games, but given that this control is predicated on having games, console makers are only powerful when they have sufficient pull to ensure that most games are published on their platform. The more users a console has, the more power accrues to it in the publisher / platform relationship, at critical mass it becomes asinine for a game publisher to not release a game on that platform (at least in absence of external factors like exclusivity deals). Thus, Nvdia’s and other prospective cloud gaming platforms are faced with a barrier to entry in that they need content to gain users and yet simultaneously they need users to gain content (at least in absence of paying a significant amount of money to for it). Consequently, without deep pockets – to pay developers for content, the chances of a cloud-gaming giant emerging independently of the big 3 console makers (who already have the users) is bleak. Analysis of these console giants’ forays into cloud-gaming / alternative distribution models, therefore, will provide a great indicator of the likelihood of a cloud-gaming or similar subscription-based platform becoming the dominant business model.

PlayStation Plus is a subscription service providing customers with the ability to download selected games each month (the service currently adds access to 2 new games monthly) which are retained for the lifetime of the subscription. This service, however, is not cloud-gaming, as the user still must download a game to play it and the library of available games is extremely limited compared to the range on streaming services. Moreover, Plus’s main value to users is in providing access to PlayStation’s online multiplayer platform; the purpose of the free games is largely to make the bundle more attractive. For these reasons, it does not make sense to view it as an alternative to the traditional model, but rather as a supplementary service. Xbox Live Gold is essentially the same service delivered on Xbox hardware and consequently is disregarded for the same reason.

PlayStation Now, on the other hand is an actual cloud-gaming service, allowing users to stream around 500 PS3 titles to their PS4 or PC. Now, however, is clearly limited in its scope – firstly 500 games is hardly an expansive library when compared to analogous services like Netflix, especially given that the service has had 2 years to build its library. Secondly in providing access to PS3 games only (note that PlayStation did recently announce it was going to begin adding PS4 games to its library), the focus seems not to be on providing access to the latest content but rather on monetisation of their back catalogue. Thirdly in being limited to two platforms the service is clearly different from Netflix which provides significant value to users by being platform agnostic. The last point is especially damning as I believe that there is no realistic prospect of PlayStation extending the service to many non-Sony platforms (in fact Sony actually removed support for the PS3, Vita and other Sony products). This is because, as a console maker it would make no sense to provide a service that eliminated the need to purchase your hardware. The presence of the service on PC, though contradictory to this, seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to monetise PlayStation’s exclusive content amongst die-hard PC gamers rather than a bona fide attempt at creating a platform agnostic service; requiring subscribers to use a PlayStation controller, for example, does not look like the behaviour of a company serious about fostering a platform agnostic streaming ecosystem. It does, however, look like the behaviour of a company focused on hardware sales. The combination of these limitations renders it is unlikely that Now, at least in its present iterations, is gaming’s answer to Netflix.

Xbox’s upcoming Game Pass service largely mirrors Playstation Now in its model with the caveat that rather than streaming games, Game Pass users will have to download the games their subscription gives them access to. Another difference is that the service will be launched with a library including both Xbox 360 and Xbox One games, indicating some willingness to provide reasonably recent content. Despite some differences, many of the limitations to PlayStation Now are equally applicable here. Firstly, Game Pass is to launch with a limited library (just 100 games) secondly, I believe it unlikely that the Game Pass will ultimately be platform agnostic for the same reasons that PlayStation Now isn’t and thirdly, unlike Now, by requiring users to download the games that they wish to play, Game Pass adds a layer of friction not seen in streaming services like Netflix and Spotify.

Conclusions

In summary, the none of the subscription services offered by console makers are likely to become gaming’s Netflix if they maintain their current form. Where Netflix offers vast choice, these services offer a limited selection of games, where Netflix offers frictionless access to content only PlayStation Now and Nvidia provide access to games with without the need to download, where Netflix allows users to access their video content regardless of the device they are using, these services are intimately tied to specific consoles. In a nutshell these services will need to significantly improve to provide the same level of attractive value to users seen in video and music streaming services. While it is entirely possible for console makers to improve the quality of these services to the point where they offer a superior user experience to the traditional model, I believe it unlikely for them to do so in the absence of a pressing incentive. Although a shift to streaming rather than downloading is a plausible improvement that console makers would be willing to implement, making such a service platform agnostic would be self-defeating. As outlined briefly above, it would self-defeating for businesses focused on the sale of hardware to offer services which render their hardware obsolete.

Even if one were to somehow eliminate the inherent conflict of interest between platform agnostic streaming and console makers, other significant barriers exist making the development of a successful cloud based gaming platform difficult. One such area is content, where games publishers are unlikely to offer up their most lucrative new intellectual property for streaming. Publishers of best-selling games will be unwilling to cannibalise revenues from direct sales of their most popular franchises by making them available more cheaply elsewhere via a subscription model. Consequently, any streaming platform seeking a library filled with top content will likely have to pay the likes of Activision and EA an unsustainable amount for the right to stream the latest iterations of their premium franchises. Moreover, even some of the premium older content will be expensive to gain the rights to, given that publishers have historically been able to monetise their ‘classic’ content by re-releasing these games at full price.

While this problem is analogous to the problems faced by VOD providers as the transition to streaming began (in that their libraries were initially populated with older video content) the specific dynamics of video game industry make this a much sturdier barrier to entry than in the TV industry. A key reason for the success of Netflix despite an initial lack of access to the most recent TV content was the fact that TV content retains value to users for a long period of time. Old TV shows and music maintain value better than video games because of the nature of innovation in those industries. The differences between new television versus older content are predominantly around qualitative factors (though admittedly there is some difference in technical areas such as video quality) while for games, because of the technology driven nature of the industry, many more factors separate old games from new. For example, a new game will likely have far superior graphics to an old game as the capabilities of gaming devices have expanded, similarly new games also have features that did not exist previously such as online multiplayer. A game from even 5 years ago will struggle when compared against a game released now on several factors in a way that a 5-year-old TV show wouldn’t. Consequently, launching a cloud-gaming platform with a library of only old games would be like Netflix launching with a library populated with black and white films. In such a scenario, the product offered by the games streaming service is clearly inferior to the traditional offering which will significantly hinder its ability to attract users. Where Netflix could capture the user using older content to compete with linear TV (weakening the traditional players by diverting users away from linear TV) and subsequently gain access to newer content later at a more reasonable rate having weakened the incumbents, old games cannot capture the gamer as effectively as old TV captures the viewer. Thus, it is unlikely that a cloud-gaming platform will be able to overcome the hurdle of intransigent content publishers, who benefit significantly from the status quo being maintained.

On the surface the rise of cloud-gaming seems inevitable, however, after careful analysis of the industry’s structure and the attempts made so far it emerges that the structure of the industry itself is a key barrier to such a company emerging. The grip that major console makers and publishers collectively have on the end-user significantly hampers the ability of an outside actor to gain traction, while in the case of the incumbent console makers and publishers there is an absence of incentives support a shift to a business model that will likely reduce their revenues. The combination of these factors mean that the advent of gaming’s Netflix is likely far further away than one would initially expect.

VC and Video Games: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The video games industry is gaining ever increasing publicity, from the hype surrounding Zynga’s Farmville in 2009 to last year’s media circus surrounding Pokemon Go there has been a definite shift in the world’s attitude towards video games. Gaming has moved in the public psyche from a fringe activity to a mainstream form of entertainment, a point that truly impressed itself on me when my mother began playing Angry Birds. Yet, despite this heightened public awareness of the sector’s importance, I believe there remains significant confusion about the industry, most surprisingly amongst the venture capital community, those one would expect to be most ahead of the curve. Though, we have moved from the stage where mobile gaming is seen as a fad (it’s hard to see something as a fad when it generates the majority of the App Store and Google Play revenue) the way individual company’s within the ecosystem are characterised  is not dissimilar to how the entire industry was seen previously. The lens most often used to view companies within the sector is that of the hits-driven business, this characterisation is damaging insofar as it suggests that success in the industry is for the most part random. This viewpoint proves problematic since it frames gaming companies are unsuited to the sort of discerning investment that you see in the wider venture capital space. This post aims firstly to cast doubt upon the hits-based based industry thesis and to subsequently outline a logical approach for investing in the sector.

Debunking the hits-based myth

One of the best explanations of why viewing gaming studios as hits-based is flawed was provided by Ben Holmes (a partner at Index Ventures) at Slush 2015 (link). I suggest watching the video for a fuller explanation, however, I will briefly outline the three main points below. The first line of argument essentially points to the longevity of certain games, Holmes uses King’s Candy Crush Saga and Supercell’s Clash of Clans as examples, to debunk the myth that mobile games are hits in the sense that they fated to rapidly acquire users and subsequently lose them overnight. The fact that these games, both of which were 3 years old at the time of the talk, continue to maintain strong user bases is telling. Secondly Holmes attacks the notion that games studios have a random chance of replicating their prior success in their future games, pointing to the presence of multiple games by developers such as King, and Supercell in the top 100 rankings on both the App Store and Google Play as evidence that good studios are able to consistently release successful products. And finally, Holmes challenges the idea that successfully investing in games studios is a luck based exercise, pointing to track record of firms focused on the sector such as his own success at Index (King, Supercell, Playfish) as well as London Venture Partners (Supercell, Playfish) and Initial Capital (Space Ape, Supercell, Peak). In all Holmes provides a cogent defence of strategic investment in gaming. This defence viewed in tandem with the expected growth of the sector (the industry is forecasted to be worth $120bn in 2019 having grown by $20bn since 2016), renders investment in gaming an opportunity that the wider venture capital industry ought to be looking at more closely.

Separating the wheat from the Chaff

This isn’t to say that investing in the sector is easy. There has been a veritable explosion of game developers and studios trying to create the next Clash of Clans and it is a fact of life that they can’t possibly all succeed; thus the prospective investor has their work cut out for them when seeking to discern which few companies will be ultimately be the winners. While this seems like a daunting task, the success of the firms mentioned above at consistently investing in winners suggests that frameworks exist with which such companies can consistently be identified. The logical next question is as follows: What allows Index, LVP and Initial to identify the Supercells of this world where others miss them? What is it about the structure of these firms that allows them to separate the wheat from the Chaff?

The thing that these three firms seem to have in common is the fact that they all have a genuine belief in the sector. Initial sees games as a fundamental vertical, listing it as the first of its three investment areas, Index’s partner Ben Holmes is clearly bullish on the sector and has significant expertise and passion for it leading multiple funding rounds in this area, while London Venture Partners was set up by industry professionals to invest exclusively in gaming. It emerges that none of these funds are investing opportunistically in gaming – they have clearly diverged from the industry standard ‘hits-based’ mantra and have diverted real focus to the industry. It is hypothesised that by diverging from this mantra, these firms have been able to develop the type of pattern recognition that venture capitalists regularly rave about in an industry that has been somewhat neglected by venture capital. This differentiation confers a huge advantage when identifying what will work and what won’t and developing frameworks with which to view and filter investment opportunities. Clearly the approach in the linked presentation by LVP, which essentially outlines what the trajectory and behaviours of a successful gaming start-up looks like, is preferable to the view that success is unpredictable when making investments.  Moreover, since the volume of competitors within the industry has increased on the back of the success of some of the abovementioned names, I believe that frameworks such as these will become ever more important when sifting through investment prospects and that the venture funds that invest in developing the requisite pattern recognition and frameworks are the ones that will ultimately see consistent success in this sector. I mean it stands within reason that a complex, competitive industry should be approached with an equally complex understanding of its nuances and what leads to success.