Indielab Games is set to provide a host of specialist regional and national accelerators to gaming start-ups. I sit down and talk with founder and CEO Victoria Powell as the first of the programmes picks up the pace.
Having helped a number of acclaimed TV, film and other creative projects come to fruition over the last seven years, Victoria Powell thought to turn the organisation she founded in 2015 to supporting games. As she had found across the creative industries, there was a lack of specialist accelerator support feeding the UK games sector, and so in February launched Indielab’s West Yorkshire Game Accelerator. So well received has the programme been that Indielab Games was recently spun out — as was always the plan — with a number of regional and national accelerator programmes soon to follow over the coming weeks and months.
Despite starting out in TV and running a production company that has serviced all the major broadcasters, Powell is very much attuned to the world of games, “Actually, I started out in the 1980s, with my little ZX Spectrum, programming games and playing The Hobbit obsessively, so I was kind of part of the entertainment industry from early on.” She pauses while remembering the acclaimed text adventure whose rudimentary graphics took an age to be displayed. “I loved The Hobbit.”
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Long after returning to the Shire and later establishing her production company, Powell had the opportunity to become a mentor for a Seedcamp tech accelerator, which opened her eyes to the potential for accelerator programmes for the entertainment industries.
“Knowing and understanding the TV sector as I did at the time, what I could see was that there was a huge amount of consolidation going on in the market, interestingly, just as there is with games right now. But it was very hard at the time — and this is going back seven years — for small TV businesses to really get off the ground and get going.” Thanks in part to Indielab, that situation has now changed, and Indielab Games is looking to have the same impact on the gaming sector, having spent the last couple of years working to build a programme that can help emerging studios fulfil their potential.
“West Yorkshire was our first opportunity to be able to deliver that. It’s not intended to be a one off, it’s intended to be the first of many. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to support a really exciting region. West Yorkshire has got an incredible number of games businesses within it. It’s got great talent, it’s got great opportunity, and so it’s fantastic to be able to pilot the programme there.”
With Powell being a foremost experience in TV and film production, it’s tempting to look for parallels between non-interactive and interactive mediums, to perhaps look for differences of approach between the two entertainment sectors. But for Powell, there is far more that unites than divides TV and gaming, at least when it comes to supporting creative development. “What’s more important is the learning from running accelerators for the last seven years, and what creates a great accelerator and how that accelerator creates significant growth; personally for the entrepreneurs and the people that are running the businesses, but also commercially within those businesses.
“The most important thing is that the accelerators that we deliver are fully populated by experts and thought leaders. That’s the way that we operate. The TV programmes that we run are populated by the leading thinkers in the TV sector, and so it is the case on the games side of things. So the programme that we’re running at the moment in West Yorkshire is populated by 50-plus incredible speakers and trainers and facilitators from the games industry. That, for me, is the best way to be able to bring real value to studios, not for it to be in the hands of one person or one point of view, but to be able to present many, many varied perspectives. So that we can help empower game studios to really define their version of success and their version of growth, through hearing from industry leaders so that they can weigh up what’s their best growth strategy and way forward.”
As well as fostering creativity and financial success within the businesses it hopes to support, Indielab Games is focused on inclusivity and diversity as the primary means to broaden perspectives within organisations, to make them more forward thinking. It’s not so much a criteria for those looking to join a programme that they embrace diversity, rather more that it’s a criteria for Indielab to pursue when establishing the programme itself.
“We are making sure that everything that we do enables founders from diverse communities to find our programmes, to get to know and understand what we have to offer to them.” Powell is keen to make sure that finding and joining Indielab’s programmes is simple and transparent, but also that Indie is seen to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to diversity and inclusion: “It’s about making sure that we work really hard to invite diverse communities into every aspect of what we do, and have that inclusion alongside commerciality. Those two things work more hand in hand now than they ever have been, and rightly so.”
While of course the criteria for each accelerator programme will be different, Powell is hoping to see some measure of success among applicants, either evidence of a released game, or having worked on a successful title for another organisation. More importantly, however, is an abundance of ambition when it comes to growth and understanding. Thankfully, according to Indielab’s founder, these are qualities that tend to show themselves when looking through applications.
Clearly it hasn’t been an issue to find enthusiastic businesses to help, but what about the all-important mentors to experts to help guide those businesses? One would expect that being relatively new to the games industry, Indielab might have some difficulty, but that seems not to have been the case. Established organisations and individuals are only too happy to collaborate. “As with all of our programmes, we find that people, when they’ve got to a certain stage in their career and have developed significant insight into the sector, are usually very keen to be able to share that with up and coming talent, which is great. Everybody really benefits from that.
It’s a very virtuous circle that I think speakers that come on the programme also get a huge amount out of as well. They really enjoy and benefit from engaging with up-and-coming and enthusiastic talent, and diverse talent too. At the time of writing, Indielab Games had yet to announce when and where its next accelerator will be focused, only that it the organisation will be targeting its efforts and support where needed, rather than ticking off locations on a map.
“Over the last couple of years, our primary job has been to go round and meet and understand the needs of the sector, across the UK, but also, the specific needs in particular regions and nations. That’s been a really, really important part of this process. There’s been about two years of build up work to really understand the particular needs of individual studios, and speaking to lots of studios. That picture can look quite different depending on where you are in the country. And so we’re taking that into account.”