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PG is 10: Alumni Revisited – Owain Bennallack

As part of our 10th anniversary celebration we’ve asked ten former key members of the PG team to share their memories and thoughts. Let’s dive in…

Who are you?
I am Owain Bennallack.

When did you work in the Pocket Gamer empire, and what did you do?
Er, around late 2005 to mid to late 2007 if I recall correctly. I was a co-founder and editorial director.

Mainly I stayed glued to the Google Analytics screen for 18 hours a day, and phoned people up to try to get our stories onto the Digg front page, which could multiply our daily traffic tenfold at the time.

When I wasn’t doing that, I was overseeing all the editorial on the site as well as getting involved in founder/director style activities, such as brainstorming business direction, debating if we’d ever get paid, complaining about [Steel Media MD] Chris James’s membership of the private members club Home House while drinking £5 tea in aforementioned private members club, and wondering if mobile games and the entire platform would ever stop being dreadful. (This was pre-iPhone, remember!)

What are you up to nowadays?

Half the time I spend staring at Google Analytics screens wondering where my traffic went on my own stealthy projects.

Half the time I work as an analyst for investing website the Motley Fool.

And half the time I spend faffing around in the stock market. (I see now that adds up to 150%. I suppose that explains why I’m still faffing around in the stock market, rather than writing to you from Barbados.)

Do you have any fond/happy/mad/secret memories of your time on PG you’d like to share?
Too many. How about when I kept telling Chris that I didn’t think we were really seeing 20,000 page impressions every day about two weeks after launching the site? It didn’t seem feasible, and didn’t tie in with certain other stats we were getting.

So we belatedly installed Google Analytics (thus is began!) and discovered we were getting about 12 visitors a day, actually, and six of those were us. Turned out we’d cunningly designed our website to be invisible to Google’s search engine, too! Ah, it was all a fun learning experience.

More jovially, the afternoon Chris and I sat in his living room in Uxbridge trying to spam our muppets editorial feature across various muppet-related websites while dementedly singing the theme tune over and over again… it’s fair to say at that point I wasn’t sure PG would actually be okay. I can’t recall if we’d even sold an ad by that point. In some desperation I decided to install Google Adsense. I installed it in my house, then got the Tube to Chris’s. By the time I was there, it had made something like £2.33.

I quickly calculated that was £56 a day, so when our traffic increased 10-fold we’d be making £180K a year, and other typical Internet maths. We didn’t make another penny from Adsense that day, and probably made £2.40 in the following month. I presume a curious co-founder clicked the ad when it popped up (against the TOS, but we were young and foolish, and they all denied it).

Finally my giddiest moment was when I sold a then huge ad to Nokia, and despite what Chris will tell you now it was our first big business deal (I was as surprised to have sold it as anyone) and made us think the site might work. (Thanks Kamar!)

What key moments or developments stick out for you from the last 10 years of the mobile games industry?
Obviously when the iPhone arrived. Within three months I no longer had to hide my face or mute Skype calls while I cackled with laughter when other PG co-founders told me mobile games were great and would be huge. Obviously they turned out to be right, so I have to eat some humble pie.

But it’s hard to explain just how terrible the whole experience was before Apple got involved. People forget now. Some of us still have the 100-yard stare though.

Which was your favourite mobile gaming platform(s) or hardware?
The first iPhone, easily. An industry saver (understatement of the decade).

Do you still play mobile games? What are you playing now and on what device?
Yes, I recently had to uninstall Boom Beach and Mini Warriors because I was playing them in bed at 3am. That was on iPad. Don’t shoot me – I’m getting old, and my eyesight is going.

Where do you see mobile games and the industry going in the next 10 years?
Given nobody expected what happened in the past 10 years (the industry expected either a long-tail Amazon model or a Netflix sort of subscription model, and got free-to-play) it would be pretty arrogant to guess.

To some extent mobile games are parasitic (or symbiotic) with mobile phone hardware, particularly the screen. If AI and speech recognition and wearables got rid of the screen that’d have big ramifications.

I think augmented reality gaming might be a big deal, too, and that is another screen killer. But really I’m just stretching to sound interesting – perhaps it will be Clash of Clans V14.5, and free-to-play will have moved onto some crazy model where they pay you to play?

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big congratulations to the co-founders who stuck with it and built it into something so substantial, and also to all the brilliant writers who stuck their oar in along the way.

For a small site in then-obscure niche, Pocket Gamer had a ridiculously talented editorial team that only grew with the various freelancers we stumbled across, many of whom have gone on to super careers in games journalism, development, or publishing.

Weirdly, that’s the thing I’m proudest of when I think of my involved in Pocket Gamer. But perhaps that’s because I didn’t stick around long enough to see the business consistently make more than £2.33 a day! 🙂


What’s all this, then?

The Pocket Gamer 10th anniversary is a month-long celebration of the last decade of mobile games running March 10th – April 10th and featuring a stream of retrospective articles and fun stuff, supported by our friends at Gram Games, Gamevil, JoyCity, Rovio, and Nordeus. Head over to the PG 10th anniversary homepage for more information.