Know your customers.
Understanding Your Target Group
Understanding your target group is a continuous process and a key element in planning your business. It is definitely not a simple matter of inviting “any game developer that wants to make a game and earn money with it”. This is especially true, if you have to answer to third parties who are financing your incubator.
There are two basic (and usually consecutive) ways to go about finding your customers: first you usually would start working with the circumstances that exist in your region (i.e. university or tech park, funding situation, community strength, tendency towards one game platform etc.) and if the existing community and ecosystem is more unilateral, you might decide to pro-actively attract other types of start-ups (e.g. other platforms, Indies, splinters etc.). The target group is naturally decisive for your programme design and your marketing strategies.
Find Your Customers
Attracting talent to the incubation programme is obviously essential. Game developers with the right entrepreneurial mindset, ideas for new games, and the necessary development skills are at the end of the day the core ingredient of every game incubator. Therefore, considering where and how to approach new start-ups should be high on the priority list when setting up a game incubator – and also when it is up and running.
Game Start-Up Scene Characteristics
In some areas the game start-up scene has a clear tendency towards a certain genre or platform. E.g. tendency towards casual mobile games. There could also be some interesting upcoming local trends, like VR horror or education games.
An incubator can choose to support these trends by taking in certain types of teams and organising subject specific education. Obviously, this has to make sense for their strategy. This also affects the incubation itself. Subjects like monetisation, optimisation and analytics will be more important for mobile game companies than for PC developers, which in turn have their own specific needs.
If many of the start-ups in the area are founded by industry veterans, they will most likely have specific needs. E.g. they are likely to be effective in developing, evaluating and testing games, especially if they had a lot of responsibility in their earlier careers. However, they might not know much about leadership, collaboration deals, business strategy and raising funding.
In an area with a strong community of hobby development, an incubator might get a lot of applications from “basement indies”. These are solo developers or small teams that have been making games for fun or as a side job, but need help turning them into a business. In this case, your most important incubation workshops and your incubation focus could be on market research, branding, user testing, monetisation and analytics.
Game Education Institutions
Collaborating closely with game education institutions at the university-level (or similar) is highly recommended. This can ensure a direct relationship with potential game start-ups. It can make it possible to start coaching start-ups in a pre-incubation set-up at a relatively early stage.
Knowning the Industry and Education Environment
In this case, curricula and teachers are likely a good source of insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Are there plenty of high-quality game design studies, but no business or project management courses? Is there a surplus of programmers and a lack of 3D artists, or the other way around? Are founders typically very young, with little experience of teamwork, working life and entrepreneurship? Knowing the education environment should give you a fairly clear picture of the needs of local start-ups, if their founders are mostly fresh graduates.
Doing that can also prove helpful and save time for the incubator staff as well as the game studios. Screening can happen as soon as possible to determine whether they would be a good fit for the incubator. Necessary changes to e.g. the competences and size of the start-ups teams would be spotted early.
Introducing Entrepreneurship Early
Direct collaboration between an incubator and game education institutions also reinforces the relevance of introducing topics related to entrepreneurship to students while they are still part of education programme. This is to make them more prepared for running their own company after graduating.
Local & Regional Start-Up / Entrepreneur Networks
Another way of scouting talent is to get in touch with local or regional networks of start-ups / entrepreneurs. In some areas company founders are likely to move in established networks well before joining the incubator. These networks might have game studios who could benefit from a specialised game incubation programme. In any case, raising awareness of the existence of a local / regional game incubator means that they know in which direction to point such start-ups.
The Incubator as a Professional Community
In other areas, an incubator might be the first professional community for game developers. Thus, networking opportunities and even networking coaching are among the most important things an incubator can offer.
Local & Regional Science Parks
Local and regional science parks who typically cater to other sectors might be approached by game studios due to their more established position. They should also be counted as potentially relevant partners.
Game Developer Networks
Game developer networks such as local / regional chapters of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA)1International Game Developers Association (IGDA): https://igda.org/ or networks who stand on their own are also relevant in this relation. Such networks are able to gather developers based on their interest in developing games. Thus they present oppportunities to reach out to start-ups, e.g. established start-ups. These could also be start-ups in the making by e.g. either game development students who are potential entrepreneurs after graduation. Finally, these could be start-ups by game industry professionals who might break away from their current position to follow a dream of developing their own games.
Branding the incubator in order to get the attention of potential participants is obviously important. This includes having a website that informs about and illustrates the content and phases of the incubation programme, the requirements for applying for it, etc. Such a website could also include relevant information about the local or regional ecosystem.