How AIE's Incubator Is Nurturing Australia's Next Generation Of Game Developers

Making the leap from game design graduate to professional developer is fraught with challenges, especially when you decide to set up your own independent studio. You'll deal with project and team management, business, accounting and legal compliance — all while developing your game. Here's how the Academy of Interactive Entertainment can give you an advantage.

Visit the AIE website for more information on its Incubator Program and range of art, programming and design courses.

AIE's Incubator Program was established to assist graduates with the transition from technically accomplished student to successful independent developer. Or, in the words of AIE graduate and current Incubator developer Calum Spring, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take the AIE Incubator with you.”

Sebastian Perri is the Incubator Facilitator at AIE’s Canberra campus. While the AIE had been running informal incubators since 2002, he says the formal Incubator Program launched in 2012 as a response to changes in the landscape of the games industry in Australia and throughout the world.

“It came from our students telling us they didn’t want to work at major publishers or developers, they wanted to go indie and do their own thing,” says Perri. “They basically asked for our support and assistance to publish their games.”

The arrival of low cost software like Unity and eco-systems such as Steam Greenlight lowered the barrier to entry into game development, and the after-effects of the Global Financial Crisis contributed to creating an environment in which indie development was able to thrive.

Perri says the rise of the indies, thanks to pioneers such as The Behemoth (Castle Crashers) and former 2K Australia developer Jarrad “Farbs” Woods (Rom Check Fail, Captain Forever), meant that AIE students had new role models. They no longer wanted to work at Blizzard; they wanted to be the next Markus “Notch” Persson or Dean “Rocket” Hall.

With an increased number of students wanting to make their own games independently as opposed to working for an established studio, the AIE Incubator was set up to ease them through that process.

“We had some staff with business savvy and a real connection with the local development communities that were keen to make and deliver such a program,” says Perri. “And importantly, our founder John Di Margheriti [the founder of MicroForte and BigWorld] was himself a successful indie, and has generously ensured the finances to get the program going were made available.”

As the Incubator Co-ordinator at AIE’s Sydney campus, Dan Toose acts as a mentor for the young developers, imparting his years of professional experience as a designer at the Creative Assembly Australia (later known as Sega Studios Australia) and guiding the Incubator teams through each facet of game development.

“Our Advanced Diplomas for the games and film industries were very much focused on giving them robust technical skills for direct employment,” Toose says, “and it was very apparent to us that if our graduates wanted to enter the industry by starting their own independent ventures, then we had to provide a program that could help them develop skills in both production and business.”

After meeting as students at AIE Canberra in 2011, Calum Spring, Tim Bermanseder, Rob Krix and Morgan Little formed Cardboard Keep, graduated and joined the AIE Incubator to work on their upcoming game Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth.

“As long as I've wanted to work in games, I've wanted the freedom to have creative control and work on my own ideas. So I wanted to find a team, go indie, create our own studio and work on our own ideas,” says Spring.

“The Incubator felt like the perfect pathway to make that happen. The mentorship provides you with an expert second opinion on the difficult decisions a new business faces. Having their support during business setup, project greenlighting and team management events was invaluable to our continued, stable progress.”

Successful Incubator applicants gain access to office space with dedicated desks and computers for each team member. There's also a meeting room, printers, development kits such as iPhones and iPads, and other hardware and software.

Scholarships are available to Incubator teams for business development and conference travel while the Post-Incubator Development Grant offers up to $150,000 of funding to further assist teams who go through the program in getting their game project to market.

Cardboard Keep were one of the recipients of the Post-Incubator Development Grant in 2014 along with another Canberra-based studio Wildgrass Games whose debut game, Bearzerkers, has been Greenlit on Steam and was selected for the PAX Prime Indie Megabooth in 2014. Tom Spratt from Wildgrass says the Incubator was clearly the best option for him to get straight into game development.

“One of the biggest benefits of the Incubator is that it can act as a bit of a safety harness for your company and team as you're first learning the ropes of game development and the business side of things surrounding that,” says Spratt. “We're still figuring this stuff out as we go of course, but that initial buffer period was very important.

“I sincerely believe that without the support structure of Incubator our company probably wouldn't be here today. We've received much more assistance from the AIE than we ever expected or signed on for going into the Incubator, and even still they're looking for new ways to help teams in the future.”

Both Cardboard Keep, with Warden, and Wildgrass Games, with Bearzerkers, are on the verge of releasing their first commercial games. As those games hit the market, Dan Toose says that one of the great strengths of AIE’s Incubator is the “no strings attached” philosophy driving their support. Unlike some other programs, AIE does not take an equity share in the projects, instead it simply requests to be credited for support provided.

“This is really important for a start-up business, where things are generally very tight and difficult,” says Toose. “Being able to get support without having to give up a share of your first profits can make a huge difference.”

The Academy of Interactive Entertainment is holding an Open Day on August 16 at its campuses around the country. Our Incubator Co-ordinators will be on hand to discuss the program and the opportunity it provides to AIE graduates.

Visit the AIE website for more information on its Incubator Program and range of art, programming and design courses.

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