The Joys of Working from Home (cue car alarms…)

Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker

“On the internet – no-one knows you’re a dog” from Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker  is one of our favourite phrases. What it means to us is that we can make games in our spare room and sell them all over the world – and no-one knows we’re sat there in our pyjamas.

To be fair – we did spend quite a bit of time converting the second floor of our terraced house into a cool office where we would enjoy working. We have an orange wall for inspiration and a metal plaque on the door that says Centrifuge Ltd – so that we have the psychological barrier between home and

We don’t have much of a commute – but it is two floors up from the breakfast table – so we feel like there is some effort involved in getting to work.

It’s a bit of a pain when the doorbell rings and we have to hare down the stairs quickly – only to find the postman has a package for next door but they’re not in so could we take it for them. I think Nathan feels bad always being in when the postman calls – he’s even got a t-shirt that says “Yes – I am working when I’m at Home” to wear when we’re expecting a parcel.

Another downside to home working is that relatives and friends think that if you’re at home then you’re free to come out for lunch, tea, shopping or any random appointment they have and would like company. They quite happily ring up any time of the day – expecting to be able to chat at length about the new Wetherspoon’s menu or to let us know that M&S have the “2 Dine in for £10” offer on again. It is quite hard to say  “I’m really sorry I am in the middle of something without upsetting them.”

Luckily we both get on very well, even when together all the time. It is quite calm in the office most of the time! However, we do miss seeing other people and bouncing ideas off someone from outside of the company. We need to find ways to network with others. There used to be a monthly Stoke GameDev Get–Together at a local Japanese restaurant – but sadly everyone seems to have moved away or drifted off now. Maybe we need to set something up ourselves and try to get a group of like-minded people who also work at home and crave intelligent company!

Then, there is the problem of car alarms and other distractions. Being in a residential area whilst working can mean that there’s always something to distract you. Our area seems particularly bad for random car alarms going off. Even worse, last week there was a brief (thankfully!) power cut – but when it came back on several house alarms started wailing and did NOT shut up! If the occupants were at work then I guess there was no-one to turn them off or reset them. It was very difficult to tune them out while trying to concentrate.

Awesome Drawing by miramiramira

Home working does have it pros too though! When we wake up and put on the local news and hear about the traffic accidents, long delays and torrential rain – we can smile and grab a few extra minutes in bed before popping upstairs to begin our day. Not having a big commute saves us time, money and sanity. Imagine I used to travel to Birmingham everyday – which involved a 30 minute drive to the station, a 40 minute train ride and a 15 minute bus journey – before I could even start work! Then the same back at night. It was four hours of travelling every day!

Now, I am fresh and awake when I get to my desk. Also, if I have any ideas or there’s any server crisis for Nathan to deal with – we don’t have to go far to get it sorted.

Also, think of the overheads! As a very new company starting out we only have our own funds to keep us going until the games we make start making money. So, we save a fortune by NOT having an office with rent or heating or power or upkeep. We can keep costs to a minimum while we make our fortune. Of course, as we get bigger and take on staff then we’ll need to fins somewhere bigger to suit us, but until then we can concentrate on the games and make them the best we can…

Going for Gold

Drawing by Zephonarch

Another way to get yourself noticed and make interesting contacts is via awards. Before starting this company I had no idea that you could just nominate yourself for awards – but you totally can!

Start with your local area – does your local paper or Chamber of Commerce have a yearly awards event? There is usually a category for new businesses or small businesses or entrepreneurs – you’re bound to find one that you can fit in. Most are free to enter – they just need a bit of work and imagination on your part. The submissions are usually done via an online form which asks about your company, who works there, what you do and some will ask for financial information and forecasts.

Our local Business Boost Awards asked for a Business Plan too and offered a free course on how to write one. This was great – as I attended it and it made us actually get one written. These are useful for trying to get financial backing or a business loan down the line – so I was so happy to learn how to do a really good one. The course was actually run by an ex-bank manager – so he told us exactly what they look for when asked for loans by companies.

All that information for free!

Drawing by A.S

So once you’ve submitted your application you have a few weeks of wondering when you’ll hear something. If you are new, a little bit different and interesting then you will stand a good chance of at least being chosen as finalists. We’ve discovered that have “Award Finalist” on your website and promotional literature is practically as good as “winner” Quite often you’ll get a ready-made logo to use wherever you want and you’ll be invited to the actual Awards Ceremony.

Our local paper’s Sentinel Business Awards don’t charge finalists or their guests for the event itself– as it is sponsored by other businesses – but usually you will have to pay, and they can be quite pricy. However, if you can afford to send a couple of staff (which is actually the whole company in our case!) then not only will you get lots of publicity but also have chance to meet other business owners and influential people in the business community. It’s all about the networking!

You may also get lots of coverage in your local press and even have a video made of your company and its operations to be shown on the night. You could get to keep the footage to use yourself too. So, it may be worth the cost of a fancy meal to get all this coverage and networking too.

You can also look out for awards in your own industry too – in our case computer games. It is worth having a look around. I wouldn’t bother with ones you have to pay to enter – but we have just tried for the TIGA awards, which has categories for Indie Games Studios like ourselves. We are just waiting to hear if anything comes of it… keep your fingers crossed!

UPDATE: We found out that we have been shortlisted for two awards – Most Original Game and Social/Casual Game! We are beyond excited!!tiga-award-finalist-logo-2016-01

That also means that we are also up for Game of the Year – as voted by the public. Here’s the link if you love Interference:

You’ve got until 31st October to vote.

EGX Adventures

Team IFX just got back from EGX  in Birmingham (or Brimingham as it said on all the wristbands.) Not only do we make games but we love playing them and attend all four days of the event every year. We loved it when it was at Earl’s Court in London – as it felt like a holiday and we could explore our nation’s capital in the evenings. However, since they knocked down Earl’s Court – going to Birmingham doesn’t feel the same. It’s not that far from where we live.

One of our main reasons for going is for the Developer and Rezzed sessions – awesome presentations and Q&As from actual successful game developers. It is always useful and informative for game developers like us. Everything from how to get a tax rebate to attracting YouTube stars to play your game on screen to their thousands of subscribers – there’s something for everyone.

At Earl’s Court these events were held in separate lecture theatres away from the noise and bustle of the main arena where all the massive games stands were. At the NEC though the Rezzed sessions are in an open area right next to the huge Virgin stand holding Destiny – Age of Iron competitions every 10 minutes. Each one ended with ear-splitting explosions after an enthusiastic countdown – and the whole thing was compered by an over-excited MC on the mike.

This meant that it was very difficult to hear what was happening on the Rezzed stage – especially during question and answer sessions where the presenters needed to be able to hear members of the audience too.

The main developer sessions were enclosed – by a curtain – but disturbingly near to the Gfinity e-sports arena where EnVyUs were annihilating all–comers in the CS.GO Invitational Tournament. This was also loud. (I do love watching esports though 🙂

But niggles aside – we had a good show. It was the first time that I had attended the Investment Summit – held in a nearby convention suite. I listened to talks by investors and publishers, such as Debbie Bestwick from Team 17,  about how to get your company ready for investment and what investors look for in a company and their products. Some said they never touch free-to-play games like Interference – but others, such as Saad Choudrie, CCO of Miniclip said “Free-to-play? Bring it on!” I got chance to have a chat with him over lunch and he gave us some good advice. To summarise (and quote Shia LaBeouf) “Just do it!” We are doing okay and if we get the iOS and Android apps out then people will come to us! Apparently

Nathan also got a pass to the Trade Zone which amazingly cost nothing!(Pro tip – just email EGX and ask for one – they just need a link to your LinkedIn page to see you are a legit indiedev)  It also came with two free days in EGX itself. The trade zone was a room where you could schedule meetings with any backers you met. Sadly, as we only found out about this and the summit the week before we went – all the available appointments were gone. We’ll know for next year though!

Nathan enjoying VR

As indie game developers ourselves we spent most of our time in the Rezzed and Leftfield zones where there were some amazing and different games on show. Nathan enjoyed Unseen Diplomacy as he got to crawl around an empty square with a Vive VR headset on – saving the world.


We could see what he was doing on screen and it did look impressive. He didn’t have any problem motion sickness with the VR in this game – as he was moving around with the action in the game. It’s the ones where you are sitting down while things move around you that cause him problems.

I enjoyed playing The Little Acre which was a point and click adventure game and I had a go at Yooka Laylee which was also very fun. I liked that it had books and pages to collect.

Our favourite Rezzed session is always the funny “Pitch Your Game Idea” one – where you can just turn up and pitch a crazy idea for a game at a panel of experts. It is expertly MCed by Jon Hicks (@MrJonty ) from Gamer- Network – as are all the Rezzed sessions. They pick a favourite and give them a bag of swag from EGX. This time Nathan decided to have a go and pitch his “Bond Villain Simulator” ™ The experts seemed very impressed and he won a bag of goodies – along with a couple of other hopefuls. The other winners were a small boy who pitched a zombie game set in a shopping centre called “Shop ’til You Drop” and the other guy pitched a game that ran through the history of game design.  They both sounded excellent.

Nathan receiving his swag from Jon Hicks

Nathan was very pleased with the reaction to his idea – one that’s he’s been talking about in the Centrifuge office for quite a while. He might even make a prototype now! I’m sure you can’t wait to see that!

Making Friends with the Press

Drawing by Angel P

One way to get free publicity is to make friends with your local newspaper’s business editor. They are usually on the lookout for stories and unusual angles on businesses in their area. If you can come up with a good story around your business or game then it could catch their eye – and help you both out. Grab a copy of your local paper (or check it online) and find out who writes business stories and what day the business news usually appears. It is usually pretty easy to find a journalist’s email once you know a name – or see if they are on Facebook and Twitter to make contact even faster.

The easier you can make writing an article or feature about you, for them – the more likely it is that the paper/magazine will use your story. Write a good concise press release – but don’t waffle or go into too much detail. Something short and sweet and then say – if you’d like to know more contact us – and give your details. If you’re not sure what a press release looks like – then there are plenty of free examples on the web.

This one is pretty good:

This one has real life examples too:

Don’t worry if your first press release doesn’t get any response – it usually isn’t personal. It could be that the journalist is busy or has too much copy for that week’s paper. You could try over holiday periods when things might be a bit quiet on the business front.

Picture by Gina Carpio

Once you have made contact and got a story in the press – then it is easier to drop them a line every now and again when you have new stuff happening. You never know – your local paper may be part of a big national group and other papers may pick up your stories too – so it is worth a bit of effort getting your story told locally first.

We got a lovely article in our local paper The Sentinel – and also recorded a video for their online version

Also it might help if you look up your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Coach – as these will often have free mini-courses or networking events for anyone running a small business. You don’t always have to be a member. You can pick up quite a lot of good tips and make contacts in other fields – and you may well bump in to local press at these events too.

I’ve attended free courses in online marketing, social media and how to write a business plan so far – and they have all come in very useful!

Check other topics in this blog – like how to apply for awards and get yourself noticed – coming soon!

The Trouble with Trolls

One of the problems with having a game that allows player-generated content is – you guessed it – trolls! In Interference We start with a description, then let a chain of players take turns to draw and describe – but each player can only see the previous step in the game. It won’t take long for the original message to get lost in translation and turn into something completely different (and hilarious!). Well – that’s how it’s meant to go!

Trolling takes many forms from being new and not sure what to do to just wilfully derailing the game – for example we recently had a troll who wrote and drew nothing but “Peeps” – in game after game. This annoyed many players who had been looking forward to how their games would turn out or wondered how the next person would describe their lovingly crafted drawing.

Picture by Aisha Yahia

Now I do like Peeps – they’re  marshmallow sweets from the USA, usually in the shape of chicks – but they were derailing every game.

This was quite a mild form of trolling – however, there are others where the words or pictures are totally obscene. This game is meant to be for players 16+ – even so, some of the pictures we have seen have ranged from child-like to actually talented and realistic depictions of genitalia and rude acts. Or as Nathan calls it “The Giant Schlong Problem”

Obviously we cannot be looking at what it being drawn every minute of the day and night (Interference is very popular in the USA and tends to be most busy when we are asleep.) So, how do we tackle trolls?

Firstly, we had to put in a Swear Filter – so that most obscene words could be caught and held for moderation before anyone saw them. That’s not so easy with pictures until we invent software that can recognise rude shapes and body parts. So, we have a reporting system – so that when a player is presented with a picture to describe – there is an opportunity to skip it and report it to the moderators. This will hold the item in a queue until either of us has time to have a look.

Drawing by jeunslo

It is interesting because while some players will happily let something dodgy go through and describe it, others report things like a picture of someone smoking for example – because they do not like to see that sort of thing either! That makes it hard to try to think of players who will be good moderators. Which means that so far we do that job ourselves.

So, we need to check what the transgression is – and either let it go through – or delete it, restart that game and deal with the troll.

What happens to trolls when we catch them? In the first instance we send them a warning and ban them for 3 days. Quite often it can be a newbie who hasn’t understood how the game is played and what the rules are. If they behave after the first ban then all is well.

If it keeps happening again then the bans are for longer and longer– until a 1 year ban is put in place. Occasionally, when the trolling has been really bad and prolific (gross misconduct we call it) – then we go straight to the 1 year ban. This is when it is obviously deliberate and the troll is intentionally trying to ruin the game.

It can be quite nerve-wracking when, for example, we have been put forward for an award* and we know that judges will be looking at the game – it would be just typical if the first thing they had to describe was the aforementioned giant genitals. Arghhhh!

We are wondering about restricting new players to just being in 5 games until they have some likes from other players and we can see that they are well-behaved. Any helpful comments would be gratefully received! (No trolls please!)

*luckily when the TIGA judges tried Interference recently it must have been all good – as we are shortlisted for 2 TIGA awards!

The Story of Interference

Interference started as a side project back in 2010, which Nathan made for friends and family to play, whilst working as a freelance Microsoft Trainer. It really gained momentum in 2012 when Berni was diagnosed with cancer and Nathan gave up that job to look after her. There followed eight gruelling months of operations and treatment including chemo and 33 sessions of radiotherapy. While Berni slept off the radiotherapy sessions in the afternoons Nathan needed something to keep his mind occupied – so he decided to learn how to make apps. He watched some videos by Bob Tabor and produced a Windows 8 app version of Interference. As Windows 8 was new then, we were one of the first apps in the store and Nathan was given a certificate to say that he is one of the Windows Elite.

Drawing by Sinus
Drawing by Sinus

We also entered the app into Creative Bloq’s Windows 8 App Generator Competition. Happily, the game was chosen as one of the top ten apps, we attended the prize-giving event on the 7th February 2013 London’s Modern Jago .We won a Windows 8 Ultrabook, a Windows tablet and a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone. All very useful to test our future apps on! On top of this Interference was chosen to be on the front page of the store over Christmas 2012 – which helped us gain lots of new players.

However, as we both had full time jobs we could not devote much time to develop the game or interact with the players. We see now that this was a big mistake!

The problem was that bills had to be paid and Nathan was involved in setting up another company doing school apps. This took up all his work time – and much of our leisure time doing education trade shows and other events to promote them to the educational community. While we learnt a lot during the three years or so that we were actively involved with this, sadly our player base for Interference started to dwindle. Although we have over 35,000 registered players, there aren’t that many playing day to day. Now that we DO have the time to devote solely to Interference, we have to find ways to get these players back and also attract many, many more! So, what have we done so far? Over to Nathan:

Drawing by AuntTP
Drawing by AuntTP
  • The whole web site has been rewritten from scratch, and now should work much, much better on phones and tablets
  • New web drawing tool: the Flash drawing tool is gone, replaced by a shiny new HTML5/JS tool. In simple terms: it works on more devices, and tries to give players as much drawing space as possible (no more tiny canvas with loads of blank space around it). The number of colours has been reduced to 36 (so the palette isn’t so overwhelming)
  • Updated community page: The community page is a bit more useful now, showing things like the latest Picture of the Week.
  • Some new features are reserved for IFX Supporters. In return for helping us pay the bills, supporters get their usernames highlighted, and some other odds and ends. They’re also able to view any available drawing replays, whilst standard users are only able to watch replays for highlighted drawings like Picture of the Week.
  • Wait, did you say “watch replays”? Surprise 🙂 For the last few weeks we’ve been capturing how items are drawn, not just the finished thing. Click the orange replay icon next to a drawing and see exactly how it was done.
  • Written a completely new Windows 10 app – available soon in the app store.
  • Added in a whole new array of awards for players to achieve – to keep it interesting and help to hook players’ attention. (Yes – we have read Hooked by Nir Eyal )
Drawing by Charlibronzes
Drawing by Charlibronzes

Thank-you Nathan! Please drop by and read our later blogs posts to see how we are getting on and what other skills and techniques we are using to get Interference noticed among the many games out there.


Picture by Caketin

Welcome to Centrifuge’s development blog.

Who are we and what do we do? We’re an indie games studio based in Newcastle (in rural Staffordshire – not the one up North!) We make games for the internet and on apps for smartphones.

Our primary game, Interference, has been going a few years now – you can read about its history in the next post. We have recently given up our jobs to work on it full-time – and produce lots of other games too.
Our developer and coder (or Chief Geek as he’s known) is Nathan Beardmore – he’s responsible for the technical side of developing games and other fun things on Windows (10/8/Phone), iOS and Android, such as the award winning game Interference

He formerly set up an award-winning school apps company with a partner (and former student of his) – but has now resigned as director to spend all his time on what started as a hobby – making games!

I am Berni Williams and I am responsible for coming up with game content – especially for our upcoming word games “Loose Vowels” and “Bluffed!”– since I’m an ex-librarian and part-time writer. I am REALLY excited about those. I also do marketing, social media, customer engagement and game moderation as well as applying for awards and anything else that will get our name and games out there!

As I was made redundant in March 2016 I decided it would be a great opportunity to dedicate myself full time to this new company to see if we can make it work. The redundancy money should last 12 months – so let’s see how we get on…