If playwright George Bernard Shaw was correct and “we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”, then Andrew Mulholland has found the secret of eternal youth.
He has also found the key to a lucrative business which has provided a major boost to the Moray economy and put Elgin on the global entertainment industry map.
His love of creating games, although not perhaps the type to which Shaw was referring, has been turned into a £3million annual turnover business which employs 30 people and has more than 2million subscribers.
These figures could rise significantly this year with the release of a new iPhone game, Battle Dungeon, before summer and a major 3D browser game, Eldevin, in autumn.
Mr Mulholland spends his working hours developing web-based games, but also fills some of his leisure time playing games of a more traditional variety with not a computer in sight.
The former Elgin Academy pupil, better known as “Hoofmaster” to the Hunted Cow herd, started developing games as a teenager and met business partner Glenn Murphy (“Cowboy”) when they shared accommodation in Dundee as they studied on one of the country’s first game-technology courses at Abertay University.
They joined forces in their final year to design websites to make enough money to create games and formed Hunted Cow – the name is “random” – in 2003.
The two friends followed the unorthodox funding route of both obtaining credit cards to launch the business from a small room above a shop in Elgin’s High Street.
Their first game, CowPlay, was launched in 2003 offering free multiplayer chess and the following year came Gothador which became an international success.
It was followed by Sigmastorm, Solar Fleet and Fallen Sword in 2006 which alone attracted 2million subscribers and made Hunted Cow one of the pioneers of free-to-play games.
“Fallen Sword is non-subscription based but people can pay for upgrades,” said Mr Mulholland. “They choose to pay as opposed to being forced to pay.”
As the business progressed even Disney, which was looking for developers, took an interest but Hunting Cow rejected its overtures preferring to work on its own ideas.
Mr Mulholland said: “We want to develop more and more games, players and the number of staff we have.
“As the games expand we will expand, as we have done from the start.”
Mr Mulholland said that attracting top people to Elgin, in the face of competition from many other game-development companies, was not posing a problem.
“One of the seven new people starting this month is coming from Manchester and another from Edinburgh.
“Elgin is a nice town and the living costs are really cheap as well.
“There are reasonably good transport links with the train and Inverness Airport. One of the guys is into cycling and there are so many places you can go out on your bike here.”
In fact, staff keen to keep fit do not even need to leave the new £1million-plus office in South Street which not only has a pool table but also a gym.
“We couldn’t be bothered going to the gym so we thought we would take the gym to us,” he said.
Good working conditions and a happy atmosphere are helping draw the talent they require to Moray.
In an industry infamous for employees enduring long hours, frequently for no extra money, Hunted Cow is also setting high standards.
Mr Mulholland said: “We pay overtime, which is quite unusual in the games industry. Normally people are given a reasonable salary but expected to work 12 hours a day and weekends.
“We base payment on an hourly rate and then staff is paid overtime if they are working more. Sometimes it is compulsory overtime, but they are getting paid for it so they generally don’t mind.
“A lot of the time it is heads down, but we do have quite a lot of fun. We socialise quite a lot together.
“What we do at work is a hobby as well,” he said, “but I also like table-top miniature board games like Warhammer and I have converted my garage with a big board so I can play games on it.
“That’s tied to the computer games as well, because a lot of the computer games are based on the same ideas: dice rolling.”
The continuing success of Hunted Cow highlights the potential of business to succeed in the area, according to Lesley Ann Parker, chief executive of Moray Chamber of Commerce. She said: “Hunted Cow is a fantastic example of a young, successful and ambitious company based right in the heart of Elgin.
“They have a consistent track record of growth during their seven years in business and demonstrate that, given the right infrastructure and support, a Moray business start-up can successfully trade on a global stage in one of the most advanced and competitive marketplaces.
“It is equally important that Hunted Cow now employs 30 highly-skilled individuals at their impressive Elgin HQ, anchoring talented young people in the local area and adding a new dimension to an already diverse local economy.
“Moray Chamber of Commerce has already recognised Hunted Cow with our new exporter of the year award and we have been particularly struck with the positive and dynamic attitude they have displayed. They are a superb example of both young entrepreneurship and world-class ability right here on our doorstep.”