Sponsored By

Featured Blog | This community-written post highlights the best of what the game industry has to offer. Read more like it on the Game Developer Blogs.

Growing Your Game Industry Company: Strategy & Planning

To be successful, growing companies need to focus on several key functions. This article is a primer for entrepreneurs thinking of starting a company or in the emerging phase of a new venture.

Belinda Van Sickle, Blogger

May 23, 2011

12 Min Read

To be successful, growing companies need to focus on six key functions: growth management, infrastructure development, marketing and positioning, and comprehensive strategy and forecasting. This article is a primer for entrepreneurs thinking of starting a company or in the emerging phase of a new venture.


The growth strategy of many game companies is to staff up and staff down depending on the work. Is that the best plan of action? What are the risks involved in that methodology? What are ways to mitigate that risk?


A smart way to grow is to partner with another company that provides a technology or service you need. It’s often a lot more costly, time-consuming and risky to build the activity out yourself. Partners are available to fulfill activities including infrastructure like human resources and operations, services like legal, accounting and payroll, and even resources like capital.

Partnerships can raise cash flow as an alternative to funding. When you have a little capital and are under pressure to use it wisely and show growth for a second round, planning, joint ventures, partnerships, management and growth consultants are vital.

Focusing on the product and forgetting everything else puts all your work, all your employees, all your products/services and your entire business at risk—not to mention your investors’ capital. Take time to investigate partnership opportunities and form relationships that’ll free you up to focus on what you do best.

Marketing & Positioning

What’s your competitive advantage? Come up with a 30-second elevator pitch that describes what your company does better than any other and have it at your fingertips. Everyone in the company should share this pitch, from your leadership to your employees. Everybody needs to be on the same page in terms of what you do and why you’re best at it.

The game industry has been operating under a “build it and they will come” philosophy for a long time. That is, all you have to do is make a really great game (according to you) that people (like you) will want to play (the way you play) and you’ll be successful. That strategy isn’t a strategy at all and will not work in the current market, nor will it work in the future of the industry.

To create a marketing plan, ask yourself several questions:

  • Where does the company want to be?

  • What does the company want to be known for?

  • How are you perceived by your prospects?

  • What is your unique values to the market?

  • Who is your true target market?

The answers to these questions are the basis for forming a marketing plan. Marketing plans are created like any other strategic plan using some of the methods described in the planning section below.


Positioning statements are a good way to start getting customers’ attention. Positioning is the place your company holds in the minds of your market. It’s the basic message you want to communicate in every marketing, sales and PR effort you make.

To create your positioning statement, ask yourself several questions:

  • What’s your target market?

  • What needs of that market does your company fill?

  • What specific benefits does your company provide to uniquely meet these needs? (This is your unique value propostion.)

  • What do you want your market to think about your company’s benefits?

  • Are your answers clear and consistent?

  • Do you communicate this same message across all media?

Why Plan?

Planning is a lot simpler than it may seem. The basic steps are to evaluate the current situation, define the target market and formulate goals and objectives. Then you determine the path—how you will achieve your goals.

You need to take advantage of opportunities and utilize company resources efficiently. Strategic plans are designed to move your business forward in a manner that results in the greatest productivity and effectiveness.

You can plan for all aspects of your business with organizational plans, financial plans, marketing plans, operations plans, departmental plans, etc. Technology industries may want to do 3-month, 6-month or 9-month plans because the business environment changes so quickly.

Keep the final plan short and to the point. You don’t need a fancy document. Plans are a living, breathing part of everyday operations and should be used to create all meeting agendas and status reports.

Build the implementation of the plan into the expectations you have of employees. Assign responsibility for plan elements, develop measures to track performance and require regular progress reviews.

Milestones are standard in development. They’re measurable indicators of progress. What measurable indicators of progress do you have for the rest of the business? Planning, implementation and tracking is the “milestone” process for your entire company.

Exit Strategy

Planning and research seem like a lot of non-income generating work, but in fact, plans are vital to your income now and in the future.

For instance, selling your company for a big payday is the ultimate goal for a lot of entrepreneurs, and your exit strategy is as important as your day-to-day work.

When you’re starting and growing your business, you need to ask yourself some questions:

  • What does the value of your company need to be at the point of sale to achieve your goals?

  • How much equity do you need to build?

  • Have you identified appropriate successors—people who will take over operations when you’re gone?

  • Is there a plan to train and equip those people?

Without planning for these events, it’s likely you won’t receive the financial return you’re expecting from the sale of your business. Put a plan in place and work toward it.

Situation Analysis

You’ll start the planning process with an analysis of the business environment you work in. Situation analysis is about minimizing risk. You want to get enough information to minimize the risks appropriate to your business.

  • What are the risks of not having certain information?

  • What are the costs associated with getting that info?

The answers tell you what research you need to do. You can collect info on the industry and competitors, the market and sales, your customers and employees, current and future technology, etc.

Start with what’s most important to your business. (You can always do more research.) Use customer and professional network feedback, website analytics, surveys, focus groups, etc. to gather the information you need.

Building Blocks of Strategic Plans

Mission, Vision & Values


Your mission is a brief statement that describes the purpose of your business:

  • What is your core function?

  • Who do you serve?

  • What value do you provide to clients?

Mission statements are used to provide decision-making guidance for senior management and staff on a daily basis.

To create your mission statement, ask yourself three questions:

  • What do we do?

  • How do we do it?

  • Who do we do it for?

For example, “We design and develop top quality core games. We use the leading edge engines and other dev tools. Our customers are top ten international game publishers.”

A unique mission statement for this company could be, “To create awesome video games for top publishers that showcase the power of today’s technology.”


Your company’s vision drives your organization forward and gets everyone on the team working toward the same ends. The vision statement says where you would like to be over the long term.

To formulate your company’s vision, ask yourself two questions:

  • Where are we now?

  • Where are we going?

For example, “Now, we’re a social games development startup with three employees and one title in development. In three years, we’ll be a top name among social developers with ten published titles and another 20 in development.”

Your vision is the answer to a third question:

  • How will we get there?

A possible vision statement for this company is, “We will be the top name among social developers by harnessing the growth in the social games market and creating original IP that engages players and keeps them coming back for more.”


Values statements reflect the company’s expectations of employees and help guide how staff performs their work—in a manner consistent with the company’s values.

Values are also a reflection of philosophy, culture and social awareness. A team that’s all headed toward the same goal with the same ideas and values will get there more efficiently—on time and under budget instead of the opposite.

Values should be specific, reflect reality and reflect a shared responsibility across the organization—including senior management. Company values lead to things like branding and positioning. Being known as innovative reflects valuing innovation in day-to-day business. A company earns a reputation of providing excellent customer service with core values in that direction.

To create values statements, ask yourself what you want your company to be known for in terms of positive reputation and what core values will earn that reputation. Don’t be afraid to engage your employees in the conversation. Often, they get the core values of a company by comparing their employment experience with you against prior jobs.

External communication and cooperation is vital in competitive environments. Game companies rarely achieve on their own. We work together with developers, publishers, technology partners, funding and many others to get our products to market. Effective relationships between companies are strongly affected by values:

  • Who are you?

  • What are you about?

  • Why should we work with you?

  • What can we expect from the relationship?

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats

A SWOT analysis is a brainstorming session—there are no right or wrong answers. You want to come up with a broad list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The SWOT list shows major factors that impact your company that you can either use to your advantage or work to avoid.

SWOT input from your network and vendors such as accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, etc. is invaluable. You want a comprehensive, unbiased list.

Strengths set you apart from the competition. What do you do better?

Weaknesses are part of every organization. Don’t be afraid of a candid discussion with employees and advisors. You need to be prepared.

Opportunities exist outside your business in the industry and in the market. The game industry changes so quickly, you need to stay on top of the news to create a good list—and keep adding to your company’s list of potential opportunities.

Threats are also outside your business and can have some kind of negative impact. A threat could be something as simple as direct competition—another publisher gets a similar game to market before you do.

Game industry threats that are having a huge impact right now are technological. Console developers need to think about the future. Will there be as many console players in the future? Are we limiting our brands by staying console only? Your threat list should also be a thorough analysis of the climate you work in and should be kept up as much as your opportunities.

Goals, Objectives, Strategies & Tactics

The acronym “GOST” stands for Goals, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics. You’ll start with the goal and then create objectives that tie back to the goal. Strategies are developed to support your objectives. Tactics are created to achieve strategies.


A goal is where you’d like to go—a measurable and achievable benchmark of success. Your goals should describe what your company wants to accomplish in a certain time period.


Objectives are well-defined, measurable ways to achieve your goals. You need to create objectives where you can easily answer two questions:

  • How much?

  • By when?

You must also make sure your objectives are realistic: Can they be achieved in the time period designated?

When creating a list of objectives needed to obtain a goal, make sure your list is sufficient:

  • Will completing these objectives really achieve this goal?

  • Do we have the staff and other resources needed to complete the objectives on time?


Strategies are ways to achieve objectives. For example, your goal is to increase your profits by 20%. Your list of objectives includes “increase players of our social game by 10,000 per month for six months.” Your strategies are the changes you plan to implement to increase the number of players.


Tactics are specific ways to implement strategies. When creating a list of tactics, you need to make sure they provide the greatest return on investment. You want tactics that cost less in terms of time, resources and money while returning the biggest yield in support of your goal.

Some companies go one step further with the GOST process by creating an Action Plan—a to-do list of the actions needed to accomplish a tactic.

Check in with your objectives, strategies and tactics as you work through the process of achieving your goals.

  • Is the process accomplishing what it should?

  • Does your plan still meet market demands?

Make changes to the GOST list as you gather data on the effectiveness of your efforts.

There’s a huge amount of change and opportunity in the video game industry right now—and a huge amount of capital investment in new ventures. This is a great time to leverage these opportunities and your experience to create something new. The game industry is full of bright, hard-working people who work smart. Put plans in place to grow your business wisely, strategically utilizing your resources and opportunities. Good luck!

Belinda Van Sickle has been in the game industry for over 14 years. Her experience includes extensive marketing and advertising work for companies like Activision, Disney, Blizzard, Sammy Studios, Namco, Microsoft, Codemasters, Warner Bros., Vivendi, Konami, Midway and others.

Van Sickle offers strategic consulting services through GameDocs, her company founded in 2005. Services include planning, management, growth & infrastructure, business development and joint ventures.

Van Sickle also serves as the President/CEO of Women in Games International, one of the leading professional organizations in the video game industry. Under her leadership, the organization has grown to over 4,000 members with corporate sponsorship growth over 300%.

Read more about:

Featured Blogs
Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like