Lost in Cult
Image: Lost in Cult

When we launched Time Extension over a year ago, we ran an interview with Lost in Cult founder Jon Doyle. Just like us, Doyle's creative studio was still something of a baby at that point; it had produced a few issues of the excellent periodical [lock-on] and was working on A Handheld History, its first crowdfunded book.

Fast-forward a year, and the company has gone from strength to strength. A second volume of A Handheld History – once again produced in collaboration with our pals over at Retro Dodo – is in the works, while the first edition is getting a mass-market release via the publisher HarperCollins.

Lost in Cult has also established its own record label for video game soundtracks. In addition to this, it is working with Did You Know Gaming on a dungeon-crawling trivia card game and has produced 'design works' books for Mundaun and Sable. To cap it all off, Lost in Cult scooped 'Newcomer of the Year' at the MCV / Develop Awards 2023.

Perhaps most exciting of all for Time Extension readers is the news that we're working with Lost in Cult on The Console Chronicles, a new book which aims to celebrate the personal stories behind some of the most famous gaming systems of all time.

To discuss Lost in Cult's remarkable achievements, we sat down with Jon Doyle for a little chat.

Time Extension: We last spoke to you about a year ago; what has happened since then in the world of Lost in Cult?

Jon Doyle: The past year has been indescribable. I blinked, and suddenly I had a dozen full-time staff. The team’s growth is certainly the clearest change — we didn’t have half this many on the team a year ago. It’s been so exciting watching everyone settle into their roles and collaborate on truly incredible projects which now extend far beyond books. It feels like every day comes with a new opportunity.

The challenge isn’t about finding work now, but instead matching the demand from both our partners and audience. It’s a fantastic problem to have, and I have the industry’s best team around me. We’ve also made so many wonderful connections in the larger publishing space — working with HarperCollins and Expanse on bringing A Handheld History to retail, for example, has been a privilege. The opportunity they’ve given us to share our stories with a mass-market audience is invaluable.

Time Extension: You're expanding into licensing merchandise, such as vinyl records. Was this always the plan, or has your business evolved and expanded in unexpected directions?

Jon Doyle: We always knew that vinyl was going to happen. It’s been a dream of mine and Ben Hayhoe’s for years at this point — it was just a matter of timing. Launching with Cursed to Golf, with C-Smash VRS and so many others right on its heels, has been a treat. So many games from across the industry united under our label, and so many surprises in our upcoming slate. We’ve learned so much about vinyl this year, and we’re so pleased to have Kevin Schulz as well as the entire Black Screen Records team to guide us.

But we’ve also journeyed into some unexpected territories too, tabletop RPGs come to mind. Concepting Citizen Sleeper: Cycles of the Eye with Gareth Damian Martin and Alfred Valley has been a remarkably fun creative challenge. I definitely didn’t see myself making TTRPGs a year ago! Our space moves fast, so we’re constantly learning new skills to keep up.

Time Extension: What has it been like to work with some of the giants of the games industry on your products?

Jon Doyle: It’s pretty surreal! The most exciting part is that our biggest collaborations are arguably to come. We’re sitting on a treasure trove of signed projects right now that are ready for imminent release that should really wow people. And that’s our goal with any project, we want to show our audience a book or vinyl or tabletop game concept that would’ve seemed inconceivable to them prior. So that’s where the spark of our ideas come from — this sense of boundary-pushing both in terms of IP and design.

Working with PlayStation and Media Molecule in [lock-on] Vol. 004 was an exceptional experience, as was getting to feature Neil Druckmann alongside several other Naughty Dog creatives in [lock-on] Vol. 005

Luckily, some truly incredible names have enjoyed what we do and have wanted to dive in with us. Working with PlayStation and Media Molecule in [lock-on] Vol. 004 was an exceptional experience, as was getting to feature Neil Druckmann alongside several other Naughty Dog creatives in [lock-on] Vol. 005. It’s a bit hard to articulate — we all have been profoundly touched by these people’s work, so it’s an honour to feature them in ours.

Having dinner with Fumito Ueda, visiting Yoshitaka Amano’s studio… These were daydreams just a year ago. It’s a privilege to work alongside these industry legends and to connect our audience to them through our projects.

Time Extension: What has personally been the most rewarding project you've done since the company was established?

Jon Doyle: [lock-on] Vol. 005 has to be the answer — we’ve put more into this project than anything else. It has been an incredibly long journey from concept to shipping, but we’re ecstatic about the final project. It not only features the aforementioned names that we discussed, but it also grew to a 400+ page celebration of games big and small. We added about 100 more pages to the journal than we promised, there was just so much great material that we wanted to share. It’s always been our aim to celebrate games past and present, indie and AAA, in [lock-on], and we’ve always achieved that. But no volume has done so at the scale of 005.

A Handheld History
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

I’m so proud of how the team came together here to realise the volume despite the many challenges we faced at every turn. Securing interviews, designing our most complex spreads, managing production delays — it was a lot. But now that the journal is in people’s hands, we truly couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Time Extension: How has Lost in Cult had to change as a company as you've expended the remit of your business?

Jon Doyle: As inelegantly phrased as this is, we’ve essentially had to become a proper business. We used to just be a little team operating out of our respective garages, and to an extent, we still are! But now we have business development teams, operations managers, marketing leads, and so much more. It’s all become very official, and that’s a lot of pressure — but we’ve taken these changes in stride.

We used to just be a little team operating out of our respective garages, and to an extent, we still are! But now we have business development teams, operations managers, marketing leads, and so much more

I’m exceptionally proud of the team’s ability to be agile, adapting to structures that support our incredible growth. It’s not common to grow this exponentially in such a short period of time, and we’re in this for the long haul. We’ve made a lot of operational adjustments to ensure that we stick around, and that everyone within Lost In Cult is well taken care of.

Time Extension: What's the reception been like from your customers over the past year or so?

Jon Doyle: We’ve always been indebted to our community. It’s a bit of a funny feeling to see people tagging you on developers’ social media posts, saying how much they’d love to see a collaboration. It’s an acknowledgement that our work is resonating — it can be hard to see that when you’re so close to the projects. People have a vested interest in the space that we’re cultivating, and that’s exceptionally important to us. Our goal isn’t to just make books that we fire into a void. We want to encourage conversation around games culture, its artistic achievements and preservation.

We have also had many people reach out to us privately, sharing the deeply personal connection they feel to our books. For the sake of their privacy, we won’t share details, but our work being the light someone needs in an exceptionally dark time is hard to wrap our heads around and a responsibility we take seriously. That sentiment alone is worth more than any campaign funding total.

To circle back to our HarperCollins collaboration again, this is so meaningful because A Handheld History is full of similarly personal narratives. To take our emphasis on foregrounding games’ emotional importance overseas on this grand of a scale is an opportunity that we didn’t expect to have. Hopefully, our new readers will take away something resonant from the stories shared there, united in a general appreciation for how games change and shape our lives.

Time Extension: Where do you see Lost in Cult as a business in five years' time?

Jon Doyle: This is something we think about regularly, as we bring in new team members with particular skill sets that will open doors down the road. We have ambitious goals to expand into new sectors of the gaming space, bringing our design principles to new formats. But it’s too soon to talk about those ventures now. We’re incredibly excited about our preservation label, Everything Not Saved, and the new Lost In Cult Partner Program — both of which are announced initiatives that have long futures ahead of them.

Having the opportunity to preserve and tell stories of the past with ENS while looking to uplift and share the stories of the future through the Partner Program is an intertwined opportunity that we’re all incredibly excited about.

We'd like to thank Jon for his time. You can pre-order The Console Chronicles now.

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