Troll Inc is based in an office in Londonderry’s North West Regional College, having been supported in its development by both NORIBIC – the Northern Ireland Business and Innovation Centre – and the EU-funded Innovation Factory programme – known as the iFactory. The business has just won the ‘Innovation Continuum’ award at the iFactory Celebration Conference.
The story of Troll Inc is a sign of a change in the shape of the modern economy – it is a successful and growing business run by young men whose background is in gaming. Chief executive Jim Murray is 27, while the other co-founder and chief technology officer, Gavin McLaughlin, is 25. “Our age has never really been an issue,” says Jim.
Jim and Gavin started the business soon after leaving university – they studied computer game development at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Derry. “We started up just at the end of 2010, so we have been going for over three years,” explains Jim. Today there are nine people working at Troll Inc, four of whom are full time staffers, there is one part timer and another four people are attached to the business as freelance consultants.
“Some of the things we learnt there [at university] were very relevant” in terms of games design and development, says Jim, but then “we had to learn everything else about [running] the business”. “A lot of that has been learnt as we go,” he continues. “But we have also been on a lot of mentoring courses.”
The most important of these have been provided through the iFactory. “We had never before really done things like writing a business plan, putting our ideas down in words,” explains Jim. “The iFactory gave us support. We gave them a list of things we needed help on – business development, marketing support and finance – and they got us mentors in those three areas.
“So we had people for four or five days to help us out. And we have just completed Invest NI’s Propel programme, which has been very helpful as well.”
Troll Inc has also learnt from other games businesses, in particular through meeting them at a San Francisco games development conference. Those other businesses advised Jim and Gavin to diversify income streams, to avoid cash flow problems. As a result, Troll Inc also runs workshops in schools and elsewhere.
“This gives us a multi-faceted cash flow,” explains Jim. Without that variation of income sources, Troll Inc would be short of cash while developing new games and new versions of existing games, a process that can take many months in which income is not generated.
But Troll Inc is now close to a very exciting phase, with three new games soon to be launched. The firm’s first game was Jellyflug, which “brings you to the wonderful world of micro organisms,” according to its marketing literature. “See the micro world like never before as you meet bacteria and viruses whilst testing your gameplay wits at the same time.”
Jellyflug is an innovatively different type of computer game, which has been very popular. It has consistently had four and five star reviews from users and had tens of thousands of downloads. However, admits Jim, a games business needs hundreds of thousands of downloads to create a sustainable operation.
Two of the three new games are developments of Jellyflug and will hopefully enable Troll Inc to move towards this higher user level. Jellyflug – Micro Adventures is an adaptation of the game for Android and other formats, while Jellyflug – Antibody Assault is a development of the existing game, played as an antibody defending the body from bacteria.
In addition, the firm is to launch an aerial alternative to Grand Theft Auto – this is Grand Theft Seagull, in which players fly through the air looking down on a town as Stephen Seagull, stealing food to survive.
“All our games offer a bit of variety, I suppose,” says Jim. “We have come up with games ideas from brain storming.” The idea is that these are games that “are fun to do”, not just for potential players, but also for the designers who will be spending months of their lives on games development.
Troll Inc has had a good start to its business operations. “We want to keep building on that,” says Jim. “We are hoping to grow. Our main goal is to get ourselves into the position of being a strong, sustainable business and hopefully to grow from there.”