Start-Up Special 2013: Are you a lean, mean developing machine?

Start-Up Special 2013: Are you a lean, mean developing machine?

By Richard Wilson

November 6th 2013 at 10:30AM

TIGA CEO Richard Wilson discusses the advantages of a lean beginning for your studio, plus the support available from trade associations

It certainly isn't easy, but there is no question that building a successful development studio and/or digital publishing business in the UK today could be one of the most rewarding and fascinating goals one could set.

In Eric Reis’ book, The Lean Startup, he talks about the principle of ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ – an approach that focuses on making something, releasing it, and learning from the market reaction rapidly so you can innovate at speed.

This sums up the transformation that has happened in games development.

It used to be you would launch the game and wait for customer reaction. Now the ‘games as a service’ model and the digital marketplace have lowered the barriers of entry for start-ups. The release date is just the beginning.

Whether it’s Facebook, iOS, or the forthcoming PS4, with every digital outlet comes the option – and expectation – to release post-launch content and continually evolve your product over time.

You can significantly shorten development cycles by experimenting with iterative products – let the consumer do your R&D for you. How quickly you measure feedback, implement changes and release an enhanced product will be critical; you must be able to continually evolve.

It has been hugely encouraging to see the increase in start-ups across the UK over the last year. In fact, TIGA’s own research shows that more than 50 per cent of UK games business started up less than four years ago.

BODY OF SUPPORT

The most common causes of failure in many industries – aside from access to finance – are weaknesses in leadership and management.

Fortunately, this is something TIGA and other trade associations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors, can help with.

As well as providing opportunities for businesses to raise their profile through free and open initiatives such as the TIGA Awards, trade associations should provide start-ups with access to expert business advice, both general and specific. For example, TIGA worked with David Smith at Interactive Selection and a number of developers to publish a best practice guide to selection and recruitment.

It is important for start-ups to have connections with potential investors, and other people who offer commercial opportunities. These contacts can be picked up at information sharing and networking events, such as TIGA’s GameDevNights.

As a start-up, you can’t do it all on your own. The stronger your network and the more advice you can get, the better a leader you will become.

A note of caution – strengthening your contacts doesn’t mean attending everything under the sun. As a lean start-up, time is your most precious resource. Focus on which organisations offer the most contacts you really need.

THRIFTY START-UPS

Whilst spending your time wisely is crucial, so is saving money. Good trade associations should provide you with access to a range of discounted services and professional business advice. Your own innovation is also a core part of saving cash. Again, the more you network with the right people, the more ideas you are likely to have.

The last element I’d like to cover is the quality of your team. As an industry, we compete to a vital extent on the quality of our workforce, and the UK video games business has a lot of fantastic people – as demonstrated by the attempts to poach them from abroad.

Yet as a business owner you must invest in them wherever you can. Workforce development is crucial for business success. TIGA is working with Creative Skillset to help developers to make the most of the Skills Investment Fund, which makes leadership and management training available to start-ups, and helps address skills gaps and staff shortages.

Two key funding schemes are particularly relevant to games development start-ups: a Trainee Network and a Short Course Programme. The Trainee Network helps firms take on new trainees with financial support. The Short Course Programme provides match funding for approved industry training programmes. For more information please contact TIGA and Creative Skillset.

Being lean isn’t about not spending anything; it’s about spending wisely. Even a small investment in training can go a long way, as it shows your staff you really care about their development.

Work hard, iterate fast, and invest in your network, management skills and people. Good luck.