Space arrangers: How dev hubs are helping start-ups

Space arrangers: How dev hubs are helping start-ups
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

May 19th 2016 at 11:08AM

Every developer needs somewhere to work. Fortunately for start-ups unable to afford their own studio, there’s a whole world of developer hubs and co-working spaces out that

For many new developers, the oft-lauded image of ‘bedroom coders’ simply isn’t practical. Most people require a distinct divide between home and work, but can’t afford to rent or buy an office of their own. 

Recognising the demand for accessible workspace among start-ups, several organisations and established developers have formed ‘hubs’ to support new games makers in their region. Unlike incubators, which are specifically set up to help grow new businesses within a certain timescale, these allow start-ups to develop at their own pace while still giving them access to resources they might need.

We've compiled a comprehensive list of dev hubs and co-working space around the world. Are we missing one? Let us know and we'll add it to the list.

“Smaller companies like indies need support in many ways,” explains Steven Huckle (pictured), who set up Essex-based The Games Hub. “Hubbing together creates  an invaluable support network, offering a larger range of experience and advice that you don't get going it alone.

“This isn't just from a game-making point of view, but from a business and professional advice as well. It also helps build a sense of community that can aid and inspire. Our hub has already helped set up three companies, including Teaboy Games who are still with us. There are now six more teams in the studio and they are supported by the likes of Teaboy on top of the experts we bring in – it's becoming a kind of self-perpetuating mentorship.”

Lindsay West, who runs Hull-based Platform Studios, adds: “Hubs are essential to grow the sector in our part of the country. They build community and give gaming economic gravity. We need to invest in them and help them grow.”

These co-working spaces have become increasingly popular in new studios, particularly in areas already thriving with start-ups. Jessica Stark (pictured), CEO and co-founder of Swedish hub SUP46 – which stands for Start Up People – receives 20 applications per month. And you never know what those ambitious new devs could become in the future.

“Simply being part of a community where the people around you are working hard to build a scalable, successful business makes for an inspiring environment,” she says. “We all need to make the efforts we can to ensure that the next generation of Spotifys, Klarnas and Mojangs get the best conditions possible to succeed.”

Ben Ward, who runs Guildford-based Rocketdesk, adds that it helps new devs focus meeting on rising consumer expectations: “It's up to indies and start-ups to work smarter and harder to be successful. Working from home can be a lonely experience for developers, but spaces like ours can provide real-life interaction with real people, and surround you with an environment that cultivates productivity.”

Smaller companies like indies need support in many ways. Hubbing together creates  an invaluable support network, offering a larger range of experience and advice that you don't get going it alone.

Steven Huckle, The Games Hub

Execution Labs’ Jason Della Rocca, who also co-founded Montreal’s GamePlay Space says his team calculated all the sales, funding, Kickstarter monies, publisher deals and so on generated by start-ups over the past year.

“We easily got past CAD$8m,” he says. “So, there is a momentum and focus on having the business side be integral to the creative side, and start-ups are benefiting from that in a real way.”

RENT-A-DESK

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of joining a hub is the money saved.

“It means that initial setup costs are significantly lower,” says Helana Santos (pictured), who helps to run Arch Creatives in Leamington Spa. “Valuable time and resources may be focused on developing tech as opposed to setting up a studio.

A start-up team will find desk space at much more affordable prices in a hub where costs are shared between multiple teams.”

But Della Rocca stresses that co-working spaces can offer far more than just somewhere to develop your game: “Of course, everyone gets a nice desk. Beyond that, we've designed our space to encourage sharing and accidental collaboration. It’s also designed to host events – from 500-person parties to 30-person workshops – as well as informal sharing sessions, play test nights with local gamers, and ‘couch-play’ multiplayer gaming nights.

“We also get visits from the press, publishers, investors, and tool and tech partners.” 

We all need to make the efforts we can to ensure that the next generation of Spotifys, Klarnas and Mojangs get the best conditions possible to succeed.

Jessica Stark, SUP64

This last point is crucial, as several hubs tell us publishers are far more likely to visit a group of ten or so start-ups than just one.

Some hubs are even open to start-ups from beyond the world of games, opening even more opportunities.

Says Stark: “The fact that we are not a niched gaming hub but focused on all start-ups within the digital field – mobile, internet, media – means an even more interesting mix of people and ideas.”

And Tomas Rawlings, who set up the Bristol Games Hub, adds that a light-hearted atmosphere of ‘interruptibility’ goes a long way to helping start-ups: “All of us in the hub are happy to chat about things from tech issues to marketing, sharing knowledge and creating an informal support network. 

“Our community sees itself as not a competitive space but a co-operative one: after all the games industry is so huge globally that it makes far more sense for us to work together locally.”

 

SUPPORT NETWORK

It’s the skills and advice start-ups can gain from working at a hub that can prove to be the biggest driver in establishing their business.

“We wrap both business and industry skillsets around them and run the annual Platform Expo to showcase their work,” says West. “We also contribute to a workstream that enables start ups to undertake software development to earn money without having to invest in their own sales and marketing efforts.”

Santos adds: “Hubs will help a start-up to avoid pitfalls that other teams may have already experienced and get ideas on which direction to head in.

“Opportunities to freelance on different projects also tend to arise naturally as work between teams is nearly always diverse requiring different people with different skills at different times. This in turns leads to unique and exciting collaborations that simply wouldn’t occur without a hub to build them around.”

Much of this advice and support can come from local developers, keen to encourage new talent in their area. It’s a large part of why many games hubs can be found in cities already known for their thriving development community.

Hubs are growing globally as an idea for one core reason: they work.

Tomas Rawlings, Bristol Games Hub

“Hubs tend to exist because there is already an established group of creatives and companies within an area,” says Santos. “Hubs are there primarily there to support its community and help it to flourish. It's there to evolve with the developers it represents. In a dynamic industry like ours which changes rapidly, anything that helps developers to manage and capitalise on that change is beneficial because of the opportunities that a Hub can bring within reach.”

Ward agrees, adding: “We have a very focused community, benefitting from the huge amount of veteran game developers in the Guildford area –devs from Codemasters, Lionhead, Bizarre Creations, Rodeo Games and others – so you're very likely to find someone who can give relevant and targeted advice on your project. If you need any programming or design assistance then there's almost certainly someone in the room who can help.”

Many of the organisations we spoke to plan to collaborate with similar initiatives in order to better support their start-ups – something Sup46 already does to great success.

“Our collaborations with other hubs in places like San Francisco, Palo Alto, New York, London and Berlin means that our members have access to workspace and the network of these Friendship Hubs when needed,” says Stark. “Our sponsors and partners also offer free legal and accounting clinics or offers specifically tailored for our members.”

FORWARD-THINKING

The hubs that have already been established are impressive, but their organisers believe there is still room to grow and offer start-ups even more support in future.

“It would also be great for the hubs to be able to offer, or have access to, affordable or free versions of software from the likes of Autodesk and Adobe,” suggests Huckle.

Della Rocca (pictured) says that GamePlay Space plans not only to expand, but also to use the working area differently: “We want to continue to add value, like building a sound studio and streaming room, and to provide more content and curriculum around business and entrepreneurship.

“We are not in the real estate business – we are in the business of helping independent studios succeed.”

Santos adds: “We believe that hubs are a forerunner of the way that everyone will productively work in future. It will be about super high quality entertainment, dynamic relationships, high productivity whilst at the same time being adaptable to huge changes in the industry and changes in the way the people that make games live their lives.”

But it’s Rawlings who succinctly expresses why we can expect bigger and better co-working spaces to emerge in future: “Hubs are growing globally as an idea for one core reason: they work.”

Find your local dev hub or co-working space here. Are we missing one? Let us know and we'll add it to the list.