Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Toby Barnes

Publishing & Media

In April we wrote about Chromaroma, the app that uses trip data to create a London-wide game for commuters. Now planning to expand the concept to other major cities, we caught up with creator Toby Barnes.

Toby Barnes worked in a number of digital and media roles before launching Europe’s first commercial interactive TV service while working with Virgin Media in the UK. In 2008, Toby launched Mudlark, a cross-platform production company that focuses on ‘making life playable’. It was this ambition that led to the development of Chromaroma.

Chromaroma is a game that “shows you your movements and location as you swipe your Oyster Card,” importing the user’s Tube, bus and bike journey history, and awarding points for each trip. Chromaroma tracks statistics on the number of swipes, achievements, “missions,” “collections,” places, identities, modes of transport, seasonal highlights and passengers encountered as the user travels around the city, along with the number of stations “captured,” records set and overall rank.

1. Where did the idea for Chromaroma come from?

Over the last few years, we have been exploring and prototyping a number of new principles and projects. These have and continue to include: location games, ambient gaming, personal data visualisation, behaviour change through gaming and telling stories through digital publishing

2. Do you think that the gaming element will appeal to hardened commuters?

Hardened commuters are always playing the commuter game. They “beat the record from home to the office”, or go “from Station A to Station B”, or ask “what is my record number of journeys” so Chromaroma has really appealed to a new audience that often describe themselves as a non-gaming audience. The game has also provided people of all types with a new gaming experience, from getting people to visit stations late at night to “hunt the ghosts”. Chromaroma is more of a games and content platform than an app.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

Can anyone these days? If I am staying in Derbyshire: breakfast with the kids, standup meeting with the team (real or virtual), email, email, email, sketching, talking, designing tomorrow’s ideas, more emails, home for a quick game of football with the kids, walk the dog, and hopefully a blast on the Xbox. If I am in London: quick train into town, headphones on. Meetings, meetings, coffee, coffee, meetings, meetings, train home through the green and pleasant English fields and home for late-night TV.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Chromaroma?

Two extremes – taking the dog for as long a walk as I can, or solving LA’s crime spree of the 1940’s on my Xbox.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

Vision. Being able to see what is coming, and how people will engage with that.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Relying on others to pitch your idea to their superiors on your behalf without you being there.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

Consistently developing the next new technology-driven thing. Making technology with soul.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would be an architect, and disrupt that industry instead.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

Still small, still struggling, still making cool new stuff.

10. If you weren’t working on Chromaroma, what would you be doing?

We have a stable of other products from iPhone location games to transmedia storytelling platforms, from 2nd screen companion apps to bot driven content generation. If it wasn’t Chromaroma we would be pushing and developing one of our other products.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

I have always wanted to run a record shop.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Do stuff, don’t just plan stuff. It is often quicker and better to build something even on paper than organise a meeting to talk about it.

You can read more about Chromaroma in our article here, or visit the Chromaroma website here.