Portal turns 5!


July 17, 2024

min read

Portal reached the grand old age of five this month. To celebrate, we caught up with our founder, Josh Heaton, to chat about the company's origins, the challenges of running a business and his hopes for the future.

Congratulations on the anniversary, Josh. How does it feel now that Portal is five years old?

Thank you! Yeah, it feels great, although a lot has happened in those five years. We had the disruption and uncertainty of the pandemic not long after we started. And now we’re in this challenging time for the games industry with studios closing and widespread layoffs. It’s been tough to watch; we love this industry and want everyone to succeed. 

From my perspective, I’m pleased that we’ve made it through this period and actually grown and thrived. We’ve created an environment that’s collaborative and fun, and that feels like a real positive in the face of everything that’s happened around us.

What are some of your highlights from the last five years?

Getting nominated for an MCV/DEVELOP Award was definitely a highlight. We’re confident in our work and believe it’s of high quality. Of course, it’s one thing for us to say that, but to have it acknowledged by our peers is special.

We’re also really proud of our sponsorship of the awards. We weren’t sure how it would go—asking a room full of tipsy people to send us their drawings comes with risks—but we had loads of entries, and everyone seemed to enjoy doing something out of the ordinary for an event like this.

I also want to mention Gamescom. I went for the first time last year, and it was such a rewarding experience as a business owner to be part of an industry event of that scale. Meeting new people and developing the business out there was a real thrill.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt?

Good question. Time management is one of the biggest. As someone running a business, getting that balance right between work and personal life can be tricky. You run the risk of burnout, and your mental health can take a knock.

When you start, you tend to focus on the money side and being able to pay the bills. But as you grow, you realise how important it is to bring in the right people and invest in your culture. You can’t do it all on your own; you need to trust your team to create a stable business.

What makes Portal different?

Well, there are a lot of agencies out there. I think where we stand out is how focused we are on our niche. We create performance marketing materials for the games industry. It’s very specific. 

It’s a niche within a niche, I suppose. Because we’re so focused on that area, we’ve become experts. We know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Our partners come to us because we’ve demonstrated that expertise working on big projects over the years.

Our love for games and the industry is a big part of our success. I grew up playing games, and I still play them now. I’ve also worked in the industry my entire career. 

That experience is vital because it means we know how to communicate with people who are passionate about games. We can speak to a consumer gaming audience because we are the audience. That’s not something you can fake.

Portal has grown since 2019. There’s a dedicated office and a double-figure headcount. How has that changed your role?

I have a dual role at the company. I’m the founder and the creative director. I run the business, but I’m also involved in our projects day to day. It’s important to me that that’s the case, even as we continue to grow.

I enjoy working on new projects, which seem to pop up daily at the moment. Collaborating with the team, finding solutions to challenges, and speaking with our partners—I love all that.

The most significant difference, I suppose, is that I’m now managing a much larger team. That’s a learning curve but another enjoyable part of the job.

Do you have any advice for people looking to start their own business?

Don’t do it on a whim; make sure you’re prepared. Have a clear understanding of what you’re getting into, the costs involved and the risks.

Planning is everything. You need to set yourself up so that you have the best chance of success. And, unfortunately, you also need to consider what you’ll do if things don’t go to plan.

Where do you see the games industry going?

Although the industry is going through a tough time, I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Fundamentally, people still love to play games, and they spend a lot of time doing it. It’s still the world’s biggest entertainment industry.

I think we’ll see new ways of engaging audiences. We’re already seeing that with live musical events in Fortnite. Transmedia is a bit of a buzzword, but I think we’ll see a lot more of it, especially after the success of the Fallout and The Last of Us TV shows.

Where do you see in Portal in the next five years?

Well, change is on the way, so we need to be prepared to adapt. The Switch 2 will be well established in five years, and the next PlayStation and Xbox consoles will be out, or close to it. New hardware usually means new opportunities.

In-game advertising is likely to grow. Publishers and platform holders are looking to create platforms that will deliver those ads. I want us to be at the cutting edge of this kind of tech, creating the content that will power this form of marketing.

We’re also going to keep doing what we’re doing. I guess it goes back to our mission statement—support our partners and help them succeed. I firmly believe that new opportunities are coming, and I can’t wait to see where we’re at in 2029. Watch this space.


July 17, 2024

min read
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