Bringing Run An Empire to life
From inception as winners of our 7th Geovation Challenge on how we can encourage active lifestyles in 2013, to the launch of their app this month – Sam Hill, co-founder of Run An Empire, talks about the journey of bringing it all to life…
It was back in 2014 when I first walked into the shiny atrium of the Ordnance Survey head office. My team and I had gotten several trains from East London to Southampton, we had dropped our things off at the nearby Holiday Inn and we were eagerly gearing up for the weekend-long ‘hackathon’ Camp.
We had in the last week learned that we’d been shortlisted from 74 entries to be one of the dozen finalists for Geovation’s latest innovation challenge – “How Can We Encourage Active Lifestyles in Britain?”
I don’t think we fully appreciated how pivotal a moment this was for us. We were looking forward to having some time away from our client projects (albeit on a weekend) to indulge in a passion project that had been bubbling away for some time. We knew we wanted to make something of our own – that we could pour our hearts into… but I don’t think any of us expected we’d be doing so for the next two years.
We had put together a basic proposal for Run An Empire (if I remember correctly I think we were still calling it “Run This Town” at the time, aware of neither the Nike project nor the Jay-Z song of similar names) – we wanted to make a strategy game that you could play on your feet, in the real world, against friends and neighbours. We wanted to make a game where you could “own” territory in the real world – and get healthier whilst capturing it.
This was long before Pokemon Go, but we were enamoured by smartphone games like Ingress and Zombies Run as well as the dozens of fringe, nascent tech projects that had been using rudimentary GPS tech to make playful public game-pieces. We ourselves had only recently finished our first run of Hello Lamp Post – a city-wide installation that lets people have conversations with street objects (lamp posts, bus stops and pretty much anything else you can think of) via text message.
What followed was an intensive 48 hours of concept ideation, analysis, refinement and pitch development. Nervously, we delivered our proposal to the rest of the cohort and within a few hours we found out we’d won! Geovation awarded us the princely sum of £26,000 to get Run An Empire in motion!
Fast forward to today, and Run An Empire is finally, finally in the UK app store. We’re being featured prominently in the Health and Fitness section, we’ve just enjoyed a week in the Top 10 for our category, the reviews have been coming in overwhelmingly favourable and we’ve had some great press coverage.
This comes after a long journey that’s involved a Kickstarter campaign, a CrowdCube investment round; several technology dead-ends; a social-venture accelerator program with Bethnal Green Ventures; scores of coffees with experts and advisors; hundreds of Scrum tickets; thousands of beta testers; a soft launch in New Zealand; a few time wasters; a lot of supportive friends; teaser decks; code refactoring; job interviews; press interviews; business plans; A-B acquisition testing; legal wranglings; accountancy technicalities; viral content creation; user-experience health checks; in-game economy balancing; cheat detection; influencer outreach; quality assurance; community management; tech-sector meetups; investor reports …
… it’s been exhilarating, it’s been educational and it’s been exhausting. This is our first official “start up” (if you don’t include PAN – our design studio, which is a much more bootstrapped affair) and part of the reason it’s taken so long to get to where we are now is not being familiar with the route.
Still, I can feel our trajectory has changed in the last few months – we’ve made incredible progress recently and I’d love to see us keep that momentum. We’re nowhere near done yet, there are many features to be added and refinements to be made. We still need to release to the rest of the world, which includes getting a version working for Android phones too.
If you want to see the fruits of our labours for yourself, which were seeded in the atrium of Ordnance Survey Head Office, then you can download the game here.
Have fun, keep active and thank you!
If you’ve got an innovative idea up your sleeve, and think you could be a budding start-up entrepreneur too, how about finding out more whether the latest Geovation Challenge is for you? Our 10th open innovation challenge looks to the lucrative business opportunities beneath our feet – how to solve problems with mapping, maintaining, managing and predicting our underground utility assets. Find out more here or attend our Launch Party to speak to the stakeholder community in person!
Geovey: what happened next
After the excitement of winning funding for Geovey we’ve had to come back down to earth with a “bang” , as the reality of delivering our vision hits home. It’s tempting to think of funding as the end of all your problems: surely you just hand it all to someone else and the work gets done?
If only life were so easy. Within our small business we were already burning the midnight candle in order to deliver our existing commitments. To bring the Geovey concept alive we had to create a number of technology components that allowed users to share their map based ideas with others. This included integration with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter along with a commenting system tightly integrated with the map and location aware.
We decided that it would be a mistake to rush into the development of these new modules straightaway and spent time investigating a wide range of third party toolkits along with prototyping our own approaches. At one point we were close to choosing an externally hosted solution until we carefully read their user terms and realised that they worked against our plan to make Geovey open and free to any individual. Weeks of prototyping later allowed us to arrive at a point where we knew exactly how to architect Geovey and we’ve used this analysis along with a wide range of user discussions we’d had in order to write the “Geovey specification”.
Using the Geovation Hub as a Geovation winner
A guest blog from Richard Page of Carbon Prophet, a winner of our 2013 Environment Challenge. Several of our winners from various challenges have already begun to make use of the Geovation Hub and find it a great place to work, network, innovate, and share ideas.
It is always exciting to be asked to attend the launch of something and so, when an email dropped into my inbox inviting me to the launch of the all new Geovation Hub, I quickly accepted.
For those who don’t know, the Hub is designed to be a collaborative space where geographers, developers, challenge winners and others can come together to ensure that winning ideas can access all the support that they need to make a success of their projects.
So, it was with real excitement that I found myself, at 5pm on a Thursday evening, being escorted into the Geovation Hub. I won’t go into the details of the evening that will be done in much more detail by others, but I do want to explain why I feel that the Hub is important.
GeoVation winners Land Unlocked at HouseParty 2015
A guest blog by Andy Reeve of Land Unlocked, one of the winners of our Housing Challenge.
HouseParty is a UK housing ‘unconference’ held every year at the same time as the more classical CIH Housing conference, aiming to showcase the best in innovation, disruption and new developments in the UK housing sector. It was great to be invited along as representatives of Impact Hub Birmingham to talk about the role data and community development could have in democratising housing development.
The session gave us a chance to share our thinking behind our GeoVation idea and to discuss this with a group of experienced and interested housing professional. After spending the last few months analysing a large amount of Land Registry and OS data and talking with large landowners, it was nice to socialise the idea wider and get some feedback on the concept.
Rather than simply present a version of Land Unlocked (the new name for Democratising Development), we wanted to embrace the spirit of unconferences and get a debate going amongst the attendees in our session. We released a blog prior to the event outlining our vision and after a brief introduction we broke off into three separate groups to ask three questions:
Green innovation ventures for sustainability
This Friday is World Environment Day.
World Environment Day was established in 1973 and takes place annually on 5 June. The event is organised by the United Nations Environment Programme, each year around a different theme. The theme this year is sustainable consumption and production.
As a part of its community focus, GeoVation takes an interest in events and projects that support the environment. Our 2013 Environment Challenge, ‘How can we help British business improve environmental performance?’, was very successful and led to funding for four ideas, all of which encourage sustainable living practices.
Cycling innovators and the chance to win a fat bike
Bike Week — the biggest nationwide cycling event in the UK — is coming up on 13-21 June.
The first Bike Week took place in the UK in 1923 — some 40 years after the potentially lethal penny-farthing had been replaced by the safety bicycle — and was started by the Cyclists’ Touring Club. It has since been replicated in Ireland, Canada and the US. In the UK, it takes place annually on the third week of June. It encourages ‘everyday cycling for everyone’ and aims to promote the benefits of cycling to the environment, society, and individuals’ health. The 2015 event has a particular focus on cycling to work.
In 2014, almost half a million cyclists took part in over 1000 events nationwide. This year’s event is in June, but there are hundreds of events taking place throughout the rest of the year. You can find out what events are happening in your area at www.bikeweek.org.uk, along with your nearest bike shops!
In the Geovation team we take a keen interest in events and innovations that promote active lifestyles. Following our 2013 Active Lifestyles Challenge, four GeoVation winners are developing ventures to enable people to be more active, whether through walking, running, or other sports and activities.
In our 2010 Transport Challenge we encouraged ideas which considered more sustainable forms of transport (including cycling). Two of the winning ideas from the latter challenge, Cyclescape and the London Cycle Map Campaign, focused on improving cycling.
Housing Challenge winners Geovey
“I’ve just had a great idea.”
Dangerous words in our office. The two of us run a small business (www.nautoguide.com) aiming to change the world of digital mapping and “great ideas” often lead us astray from the path we should be formally treading. But I just couldn’t keep quiet; I’d been reading the challenge laid out by the GeoVation team and immediately saw how we could make a compelling case.
The challenge centred around the theme of housing and asked, “How can we enable people in Britain to live in better places?” I mulled this over whilst grasping a cup of coffee and asked myself who best understands the needs and issues of the community? Is it the powers that be? Is it those servicing the community? No, it’s the community themselves. They always know what needs improving and often know the best way to go about it, why not give them a tool where they can describe their needs, describe their solution and let the good ideas gather momentum? Surely this would enable people to live in better places by giving them a tool to facilitate change.
I turned to my business partner Richard and we began to develop our thinking further. We saw how a well annotated map that could be easily shared across social networks would go a long way to describe the needs and ideas a community may have. We also saw how these ideas could be seeded in a form of consultation by the powers that be, asking communities what they thought of plans and allowing interactive discussion with the map as the basis.
GeoVation winners visit Ordnance Survey
Last week we invited in the winners of the GeoVation Housing Challenge to find out more about what we would be offering in terms of support from OS and Land Registry and answer any questions. In the morning the winners introduced themselves to colleagues around the business and Land Registry who could offer support and advice as they develop their websites and apps.
Dave Barter, from Nautoguide, who were awarded £29,000 introduced Geovey as ‘A map-based solution sketchpad for crowdsourcing community improvement ideas’ and gave us an update of where they were with development. They have already started work on research, design and planning the project. ‘Maps are for much more than directions, maps allow people to visualise their surroundings in new ways and spot opportunities for improvement.’
We can make London a National Park City
On Tuesday 24 February 600 people came together at Southbank to Reimagine London and ask “What if we made London a National Park?”. In this extended article the award-winning writer Lucy Anna Scott shares her day at this important event.
“I hope you’re all in an imaginative mood,” enthused Daniel Raven-Ellison, founder of the Greater London National Park campaign, as he opened the Reimagine London event at Southbank Centre this week.
But picturing Greater London as the world’s first National Park City doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination these days.
What started out as the brainchild of geographer and explorer Raven-Ellison just less than a year ago is now rapidly maturing into a campaign that has a life all of its own. And the 600 participants – who attended a packed programme of talks, debates and activities to explore the concept of London as a National Park – were proof of the momentum behind a campaign that’s swept the likes of Zac Goldsmith, Chris Packham and Robert Macfarlane along with it.
Winners of the GeoVation Housing Challenge
In September we launched our latest GeoVation challenge — ‘How can we enable people in Britain to live in better places?’ — which was run in partnership with Land Registry.
In total, 43 ideas were submitted to the challenge. Out of nine finalists selected to pitch their ideas to our judging panel, three winners were awarded funding to develop their innovation:
The Green Alchemist empowers businesses to recycle
Element Green Recycling, one of the winners from our 2013 challenge ‘How do we help British business improve environmental performance?’, has recently released a new web application intended to make recycling more financially rewarding for businesses. The Green Alchemist app allows business to sort their recyclable waste and helps them make money from it by selling it to waste couriers.
Business rates do not cover waste and recycling services, meaning that businesses must manage their own own. Contamination causes 30% of recyclable waste to be sent to landfill each year. Sorting recyclable waste reduces contamination and increases its value.
The Green Alchemist provides details on waste couriers in the UK; pricing on recyclable materials; an auction facility for used furniture, electronic goods and recyclable waste; and products to help businesses recycle, such as the Green Pod. Businesses can use The Green Alchemist to auction quantities of recyclable waste or to request quotes for its collection; and waste couriers can use it to locate businesses with sorted recyclable waste for sale or collection. Householders can also use the app to locate recycling facilities in their area and the website to sell secondhand furniture and used goods. (more…)
Today the neighbourhood tomorrow the world! – Run An Empire
Today’s guest Blog is by Sam Hill, of Run An Empire, winners of the How can we encourage active lifestyles in Britain? Challenge. The Hoxton based, PAN Studio were awarded £26,000 to develop their idea. Run an Empire is an exercise strategy game on a smart phone app, which uses GPS with Ordnance Survey data to record paths players take and allow people to compete to capture and maintain control of as much territory as possible, using neighbourhoods as arenas for play. The more times people run or walk around their neighbourhood the more secure they can make it against ‘invasion’.