London-based mobile publisher Product Madness has opened applications for a new incubator program that aims to find the next free-to-play hit.
The company, best known for popular games such as Heart of Vegas and Cashman Casino, has slots open for up to ten teams in the program's initial year, and tells GamesIndustry.biz it wants the incubator to be "a game-changer in the industry."
The program, called Madness Ventures, will provide funding in three stages: one for prototyping and testing, one for a full prototype, and then for full development and global release. Developers that take part will retain creative independence, as well as full ownership of their IP.
"We want to foster innovation not only internally but also externally because we believe that great ideas exist among talented game entrepreneurs," vice president of business development and strategy Zvika Pakula told GamesIndustry.biz.
"This incubator platform allows us to create personal and privileged relationships with ambitious and innovative entrepreneurs who need funds and guidance to develop their ideas.
"We know there are some exceptional new game concepts being conceived but that many game entrepreneurs do not have the contacts, resources and support needed to bring these games to market. If we can bring these great ideas to life through our incubator programme, then we will not only bring fresh and exciting games to our millions of players around the world, we will help top talent and our vibrant industry to thrive."
Studios can submit a game of any genre, but it must feature chance-based gameplay mechanics, show commercial potential and be scalable, and "include an innovative edge that will easily distinguish them from the competition."
The focus on chance-based mechanics is largely due to Product Madness' own experience in this field, making it easier to offer mentors to developers that are successfully selected. However, given the scrutiny over such mechanics in recent years – with several governments and regulators around them either imposing or considering bans on the practice – how will Product Madness guide developers in terms of best practices?
"It’s important to reiterate that we are looking to add to our stable of free-to-play games - that means games that can be enjoyed by any player for free," Pakula explains. "However, as a company, we strive to lead in all matters relating to the player experience and that extends to responsible gameplay standards, too."
"We know there are exceptional new games being conceived but that many devs do not have the contacts, resources and support needed to bring them to market"
He adds that Product Madness' parent, Pixel United, even has a dedicated 'responsible gaming' division that oversees its free-to-play portfolio, which will also be assisting developers.
"It is worth mentioning that any monetisation mechanics included in the games developed through Madness Ventures will not necessarily be chance-based – it is only the gameplay that has to include an element of chance. But, as you might expect, we have clear guidelines and policies that are applied to every game we create and these will be shared with teams and upheld as part of the development process."
The free-to-play space on mobile has been notoriously difficult to break into, with a handful of companies dominating the charts in terms of both revenue and downloads for years, if not decades.
Pakula recognises that it can be "very challenging" for independent studios to break into this space – hence the incubator – and is keen to help set sensible expectations. The incubator will take a "gated production approach", with "clear and realistic" success metrics for each stage.
"By providing access to funding, resources and mentorship needed to develop, test and launch a great game idea, the dev teams can focus on doing what they do best: making great games," he says. "Beyond the funding, we bring extensive knowledge in analytics and performance marketing to conduct marketing tests, tech launches and soft launches that can otherwise be costly and time intensive.
"We believe in agile game development so the program focuses on fast market testing. One of the key success factors of this program is to align our goals with the ones of our potential partners, and set realistic and shared expectations."