This Singapore ‘pre-incubator’ teaches gamemakers to be entrepreneurs

e27 talks to the creators of the Game Innovation Programme on the business of games and making them for today’s market

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Game developers, while worthy in their design craft, may not necessarily know the ways of forming a business plan or even market themselves. It’s never easy running a business, and unless you don’t mind spending three years paying for an MBA, it’s something you have to pick up instinctively with trial and error.

Enter the Singapore University of Technology and Design‘s Game Innovation Programme internship (GIP), which apparently sets trained game designers, coders and artists in a safe ‘environment to use their knowledge’ to break into the industry. Think of it as an elaborate training ground before the real thing.

For 14 weeks, select students will work on a game project; these can range from either taking a standard game genre and putting it on mobile with an alternate control scheme, or a proper game title that educates its users without coming off as pandering. On standby to lead the chosen students to the correct path are mentors from all sorts of veteran game design studios.

The second year of the programme is focussed on making games that educate without being forceful and on-the-nose about it, as well as making sure that game designers know a thing or two about creating a startup.

Digital fruits of physical labour
As with any school programme involving game-making, it won’t mean much without any sort of results. Thankfully, 2014′s GIP showing isn’t a no-show.

From what e27 has seen, the five games created by each six-to-seven-person team shows great promise. A game called Vault puts you in a role as a thief who has to navigate from point A to B jumping on gravity platforms and avoiding deathtraps. The kicker is that it’s linked to a fitness monitor (think Nike’s FuelBand); the more calories you burn, the more lives you can give to your thief.

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A preview of Code Blue, a startup game that’s tied together with Health Visuals. Image credit: SUTD

Also Read: Should entrepreneurs choose incubators or accelerators?

Code Blue is a puzzle game where you have to assign a limited number of medics to help out random citizens suffering from cardiac arrest. The project is a tie-in together with company Health Visuals to promote AEDs and CPR techniques.

“We expanded on the idea for games beyond entertainment,” said GIP’s Senior Manager of Outreach and Training Phaedra Pang, “Games that addressed real world issues. It happens that O-Labs, Health Visuals and SG Enable have something in common: health issues. These would be interesting problems to design a game around.”

Going local
According to the GIP’s Programme Director Teo Chor Guan, this was an evolution of a familiar programme in 2008 called the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab. While that programme sent internship-worthy students to the US, the GIP focusses on using local internships and working with the local gaming industry.

Unlike Gambit, the local mentors in the GIP work closely with the students and go beyond giving talks. “I do agree that the industry is emerging, especially on the mobile games side,” said Guan. “We look at up-and-coming companies like Daylight Studios and Lambdamu that gain recognition, and even big publishers like Ubisoft (as mentors).”

“This is so that students can get a sense of what to expect from the real world in expectations, needs and wants.” She added that they come in three times a week to reinforce this. The new mentors in the second GIP include Danien Chee from Cabal Entertainment and Ian Gregory from Witching Hour Studios.

Not-so-risky business
We said before that some greenhorn game designers lack the fundamentals of publishing and marketing their finished products; the GIP solves that with its various entrepreneur workshops with industry partners. Key companies include Marshall Cavendish Online, National Instruments, and Razer.

“(They) share their business knowledge and startup experiences with the students,” said Business Developer Tan Chee Ming. “We instill a sense of entrepreneurship in their mind, so that in the future, if they work with other companies, they approach their game and situations with a business mind. They are more value to a company as someone other as a generic worker mindlessly slaving on a number of projects.”

One example of a workshop is an upcoming one on August 1 called “Building a Fan Base”, with higher-ups from DeNA, Inzen Studio, and Lambdamu to share marketing, business and media experience. These include methods on getting press and investor contacts, to knowing how to shape a product to attract venture capitalists and developers, to the point where they give a newbie team money or a high-ranking intellectual property to work on. The GIP organisers also had producers from Ubisoft Singapore to talk about business management and how to manage their portfolio to potential angel investors during the pitching process.

“We’re going through this entrepreneurship side for GIP to address the business gap in managing video game studios,” said Guan. “Most schools like Digipen already address the technological and programming gap. But a lot of these schools don’t work across all disciplines. Making games isn’t about art and programming, it’s about coming together to create a prototype in a certain period of time. Game-creating is all about constraints: time constraints, creative constraints and feature constraints.”

Also Read: Bootstrappers EP#03: Follow your heart, says Jerome Chan of Ideas Incubator

Sound advice
The founders of the programme would like to think of its 14-week excursion as a ‘pre-incubation stage’ where people get exposed to work together, meet requirements and come up with cool game ideas that can entertain and possibly educate. The first one back in 2013 was a success.

A project called GetZapp! was launched commercially by Marshall Cavendish Education, while another title called Nexus Edge was displayed on a National Instruments roadshow. In fact, Ubisoft Singapore’s Managing Director Olivier de Rotalier is a strong supporter of programmes such as these, saying that this is a great opportunity for pushing the envelope since their scope can be limited in bigger companies.

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Now you’re wondering if you’re up for such a lovely-sounding endeavour. Pang said that there are written tests and case studies potential candidates can take and analyse. “We look at their responses; those who are invited come in for a face-to-face interview. We access their skillset and personalities based on the briefs of the business proposals we get, then match them with the right team members.”

And their advice for other game developers in Southeast Asia wishing to make it big and trying out the GIP? “Try,” said Pang. “Just keep trying. The (GIP) is the safest way for you to try your ideas. Try whatever project management skills you have, be experimental and get ready to fail. You have people at every avenue to seek counsel from.”

The students will get their hard work out in the spotlight on August 31 at the Singapore ArtScience Museum near the Marina Bay Sands. Whether they come out as winners or not, a programme like the GIP will at least instill all the knowledge of the games business into future game developers and startups.

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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  • Tay Yang Shun

    Zhiming so handsome!

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