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Core Labs looking to solve saturation

Online-focused accelerator takes a different approach to dev start-ups

There's no shortage of aspiring developers looking to break into the market these days, which means there's no shortage of opinions on the best way to do that. As the director of Core Labs Game Accelerator, Anthony Palma is (naturally) a big proponent of going through a game accelerator program.

Speaking with this week, Palma said the biggest challenge facing indies now--and one of the things he hopes Core Labs can help people with--is forming an understanding of the layout and landscape of the current market.

"There's a big misconception that there's funding available to a lot of indie developers and it's very attainable, and unfortunately, that just isn't true anymore," Palma said. "A lot of major publishers just aren't funding games unless they already know the studio or it's just an incredible game. So for indie developers that want to get started and do it as a business, all the tools are available to them, but really understanding where the opportunity is and understanding that they don't necessarily need funding so much as exposure to get that first game out, is super important. So that's what we try to instill in the program, that there are other ways to get your game out there other than getting funding."

Core Labs used to share that misconception. When the GSVLabs-affiliated accelerator launched last year, the first class was intended to have 20 teams: 10 on-site and 10 working remotely. Palma said the idea was to connect the on-site teams with publishers to get them some funding to support their temporary stay in Silicon Valley, but as they developed the program, they found the major publishers weren't interested in funding teams under that model.

"The understanding of the business side is what really helps separate hobbyists from professionals"

In the end, Core Labs accepted 19 teams in its initial class, but only eight groups ultimately accepted the offer. Of those, only two were on-site.

"Through that process was how we learned that the online approach helps people a lot more," Palma said. "The teams that participated remotely were very happy with the structure ... whereas the on-site teams expected more, so we had to work with them to make sure they were having a better time."

For the second class at Core Labs (applications for which are due by this Sunday), Palma said the focus is on teams working remotely. Those who wish to be on-site will still have access to office space and hardware and other perks for as long as they like, but the program isn't encouraging it like it did with the first class.

"We want to be able to fit into your existing life around the world. You don't have to come to Silicon Valley if you don't want to," Palma said. "Weekly requirements are very low. It's only a 1-hour session given by a guest industry speaker once a week about some topic that affects game developers, then monthly deliverables like the business plan, or the game design document, to keep people moving forward so they come out with all they need to be a successful start-up at the end."

Enrollment in the 24-week course will cost nothing up front, but Core Labs will take a 5 percent revenue share of any games brought through the program. Unlike some other accelerators, Core Labs will not provide funding, nor will it require an equity stake in a team's company.

However, Core Labs is offering teams the option of giving it 2 percent equity in their companies. Again, they won't receive any funding in exchange for that ownership, but Palma suggested it could help some teams find traction with future investors if they have Core Labs featured on their Cap Table.

"I really don't think providing $20,000 to $25,000 in funding is going to move the needle for these teams," Palma said. "So if we were to do that in exchange for the 2 percent, it's not going to get these teams to the next level. The understanding of the business side is what really helps separate hobbyists from professionals. If you look at successful indie developers over time, they've understood the business side."

Prior to his work with Core Labs, Palma actually went through another accelerator program with a game development startup of his own. And while he found that program was overly broad--focused not just on games or tech but start-ups of any stripe--he said he got plenty out of the experience.

"I thought it was super beneficial when I went through--even though not everything was relevant--because it really got me in the Silicon Valley mindset," Palma said. "It sounds kind of like tech jargon or buzzwords out here, but it really did help me in understanding the lay of the land."

As for the lay of the land in gaming, it's pretty crowded for new developers.

"There's saturation in the market right now. With the tools going to basically nil to be able to get in--either free or very cheap--it's just hard to be found"

"There's saturation in the market right now," Palma said. "With the tools going to basically nil to be able to get in--either free or very cheap--it's just hard to be found. What we try to do is guide people into opportunities they may not have thought of. One of our devs is going to launch his game on Razer Cortex, which is the indie service that they partnered with Ouya. Not a lot of people building their first game particularly would have thought of something like that.

"So for me, the big challenge right now is finding an angle for which you can get exposure for your game. Obviously, the amazing games will rise to the top as people find them and they start getting publicity. But for the average Joe who wants to start a game studio and has a great game but not one of those unicorn types, there's still a lot of opportunity as long as they can find the proper support and the proper angle for being able to launch that."

That makes it tough not only for aspiring developers, but for accelerators like Core Labs. Palma recognizes it's a challenging time in the market for an operation like his, and as the changes from the first class show, the program is a work in progress. But just like the applicants he'll be working with, he's optimistic.

"It'll definitely be tough," Palma said. "It may be tough for maybe a year or so, until we can get a couple more classes under our belt and get some name recognition. But we'll just keep driving forward with the goal of helping more indie developers launch their games regardless of whether it's financially viable for us or not, at least in the short term."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.