10th September, 2016
I've made video games for almost 25 years. I've made some really successful ones, million-sellers, and some that barely sold at all. I've been nominated for two BAFTAs and won one, and a team I was a part of won an Emmy. I've made them for all platforms from mobile to Sky Digibox to PC, PlayStation and Xbox. I've written about them, coded them, done art, level design, music, sound effects, I've written manuals, I've tested and run QA departments, I'm marketed and sold them. In short, my professional life has been all about video games, and I love them.
When I was made redundant from Xbox in March 2015, I looked at my other love, ultra running, and the idea for ULTRA came along - a magazine that would appeal to all this incredible community of ultra runners, and help join up the different groups around the country. To bring together those in the Lakes with those in the south-west of England, those in Scotland, Wales and Ireland with those in the south-east. And maybe some people abroad too. Elites and non-elites, race directors and people who haven't yet done an ultra at all. With the help of my good friend Marcus Dyson, other family and friends and dozens of people from the community we created this thing which was well-received and sold well. It won two awards from the Independent Magazine Publishers Association, pretty incredible to be able to say the "award-winning ULTRA magazine" so early on.
We made another, and another, and bucked the magazine trend - we created a publication that sold consistently well. Not many copies, only 700 or so per issue, compared with say 18,000 for Runner's World, but consistent. The biggest magazine distributor in the UK told me that it's usual for first issues to sell well, and then the second issue to fall off a cliff. Not so with ULTRA. We looked at quality each issue, spending more and more to make it better, improving the delivery and the quality of the packaging so that people would get it quickly and in the best possible condition.
But, it doesn't make much money. The simple maths show that 700 copies at £9 each coupled with a print bill of over £4,000 doesn't leave a lot of room for profit. And while many people have been incredibly generous in giving their words, pictures and illustrations for free, some people can't do that - those who rely on their work for income. My moral compass tells me that those people need to be paid as fairly as we can manage, so that little profit from each mag gets reinvested in the next. All the while, my savings (and the extremely generous pay-off from Microsoft) gets whittled down as my family and I continue to... well, live :)
At Christmas I realised that ULTRA is a bit more than just a magazine; it's a community. People like the ULTRA name and symbol, associating it with the quality of the magazine, and it struck me that perhaps races and events could work under the same 'brand'. With advice from the utterly, utterly awesome race directors Richard Weremiuk, James Elson and Lindley Chambers, I put together a plan for a series of 50Ks and some other ideas, and the ULTRA festival. The latter was fantastic, the magazine made real - fabulous people from all walks of ultra life coming together and being brilliant for a weekend with beers and talks and runs. Then the first 50K, The Hangman, with superb organisation by Maxine Rhodes and my wife Sarah on catering, became real last month and with a few small glitches was a great event that we'll do again next year. Both the festival and the race made a profit - not much, but a little bit.
I've known for a long time that a day of reckoning is going to come, when money runs out. I've considered what to do; working part-time somewhere, working in a shop, flipping burgers, whatever, but all the while wanting ULTRA to continue. But it's been a half-hearted search.
Until a few weeks ago, at least, when I went running with an old friend who works for a local games developer, and he asked me if I was interested in something full-time. "Of course," I said, thinking nothing would come of it. Two weeks ago he called me in to meet with a couple of people, and a week ago I was offered a job. A real one, in the real world, doing what I love - making video games. Leading a team of people making something really cool. Really cool. So I can't turn it down. I don't want to turn it down.
But I plan to continue with ULTRA. I wholeheartedly believe in the future of the magazine, the festival and the races, and most of all I believe in you, the community. You are quite an amazing group of people, and when we share stories together via the magazine and get together in real life there is magic in the air.
It's going to be hard, balancing a full-time job with a quarterly mag and events, but I'm going to do it - with your help either buying, participating, writing, taking photographs, illustrating, marshalling or helping to organise, I know it's possible.
In fact, I've got a few more plans up my sleeve to make ULTRA better and stronger. I hope you've enjoyed coming with us this far on the journey, and I look forward to seeing where we go next.
Thanks so much for your support.
(PS - the image above is one of the original prototype covers, a 'proof of concept', with a great photo by Stuart March from a Centurion race. Stuart's been a great supporter from way before day one. Thanks buddy.)