Six to Start

Week 104: Smokescreen, Television and Two Years

Adrian will be writing a lot more about Smokescreen over the next few weeks, but here're some brief details about the game.
The last week has been a major, final push to launch Smokescreen. I'll be honest: I hope we get a lot better at this as we work on more projects, as there have been quite a few late nights for the production team over the past few weeks, and Deliverance have been visiting us late at night a lot more than usual.
I've been at MGEITF - the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thursday through Sunday, so it's been a working weekend for me. I've been working on budgeting and spreadsheets - management and strategy stuff - plus the E4 project I'm Exec Producing had a sprint showcase today. So it's been a busy week. I've also been having some really interesting conversations with advertising/marketing/comms industry figuresSmok about


It's been over two years in the making, over fifty (fifty!) people have been involved in producing it, and now it's finally out: Smokescreen, formerly known by its not-so-secret codename 'Ministry', soft-launched yesterday.

Adrian will be writing a lot more about Smokescreen over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, check out the first two missions at

On Television

I've been at MGEITF - the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thursday through Sunday, so it's been a working weekend for me. It was my first time at a big TV event - it's a bit like SXSW for the TV industry, but I still haven't been to something like any of the MIPs.

One of the things I was asked by someone - straight after the TV's Got Talent event, hosted by Ant Or Dec with Louis Walsh, Amanda Holden and Jimmy Carr on the judging panel - was whether there were as many in-jokes and insularity in any of the "tech" conferences. Absolutely there are: SXSW's equivalent to TV's Got Talent is Anil Dash rocking an improvisational PowerPoint poking fun at TechCrunch and lolcats.

I was on a panel that Matt Locke put together called How to Make Money Online, admirably chaired by Emily Bell. The thing that frustrated me was that the attitude of the television industry is that no one's making money online, when that's demonstrably not the case: games are just one area that's making shedloads of money online. It's another question whether short or long-form linear video is making, or is going to make money online, though, and whether it's making money (never mind enough of it) directly from its audience a la iTunes, or through advertising. What really interests me about going to conferences like MGEITF is the chance to meet great creative talent - like Steven Moffat, Russell T Davies, David Simon, Toby Whithouse and Paul Cornell - and persuade them that the internet, not just the web, can let them create far beyond linear video.

In the same way that our work with Penguin was about storytelling off the printed page, that's how I want Six to Start to work with the television industry. In that way, it was disappointing to go to the How to make a Hit Drama Series and find that the discussion was around the UK/US commissioning models, showrunners versus head writers, the mentoring process at broadcasters, instead of how you might go about creating a hit tv drama series, say, last - after having built up an audience in different ways.

104 Weeks

The other thing that's been two years in the making this week is Six to Start, the company. Adrian and I started out in September 2007 working out of Cafe Nero and Adrian's flat, and while we were there, we brought on Ben Burry and James Wallis, followed on by Claire Bateman and Andrew Hayward. Kass Schmitt joined us in March 2008, when we moved into our first office in Vauxhall. Paul Mison joined during summer last year, and Marc McGinley, our most recent employee, interned with us at the same time and then joined at the start of this year.

It's been an absolute rollercoaster over the last two years. We've gone through a small funding round with Nesta that helped us get started and gone through the rigmarole of working on a large project with a broadcaster - Smokescreen - from start through to (nearly) finish. Against that background, we've been building relationships with creatives and publishers in different sectors of media: mainly television, but some work in music and publishing, too.

I feel like we've made a lot of progress this last week in how we're going to get from where we are to where we want to be. We're really worried about lots of things: keeping quality whilst still growing, doing the work that's available out there (and there is more available than we can handle at the moment), as well as how we finally emerge from our embryonic production company state. I finally feel like we're putting together a plan about how we're going to do it now.

And finally, the SXSW poke

Today's the last day for voting at the SXSW Interactive Panel Picker. Vote for our panels!

Smokescreen: Online Stalking, Phishing, and Hacking - For Kids! How do we get teens to think about online privacy, trust, and identity? TV, films and books haven't worked - but a game that simulates the internet, with a gripping drama and fast-paced missions definitely could. We talk about the making of Smokescreen, a new online game for Channel 4.
Panelists will include Adrian Hon (Chief Creative at Six to Start), Alice Taylor (Commissioner at Channel 4 Education) and Margaret Robertson (Games Consultant, former editor of Edge magazine)
Branding And Slaughtering The Sacred Content Cow
What we've done, and what we would've done differently the second time round: slaughtering some sacred branded cows in online content, design and communications from panel speakers ranging from an ARG design company to a communications agency, a music service and a digital agency.
Panelists will include Dan Hon (Six to Start), Iain Tait (Poke) and Katy Lindemann (Naked Comms)
Blood on the Bookshelves: How Publishing Can Survive
eBooks, book piracy, and the lure of gaming mean that the next decade could see the end of traditional publishing. This presentation will suggest how publishing will change, how publishers can survive, what publishers can learn from gaming and what writers will want from their editorial-service-provider in this new landscape.
Panelists will include Adrian Hon (Six to Start) and Naomi Alderman.