The second most common question game students have is:“What’s the best way to get into the industry?” (right after “Going to the pub after this?”).
My super-knowledgeable and super-experienced answer to that has been: make games. Now I have a slightly improved answer: finish a game and put it out there – rinse and repeat, if necessary.
That of course begets the follow-up question: “Got any advice on how to do that?”. And that’s when I point them towards Dare to be Digital (and make my escape before they start asking too difficult questions).
I must confess that I didn’t really know about Dare to be Digital before coming over here. In my defence, it was only this year they opened the competition to teams from Finland. Now that I’ve had time to get to know it and follow the teams (and even pop in to say hi), I’m a bit jealous. Dare to be Digital is a fantastic opportunity and a competition like no other.
It’s definitely not the only way to finish a game and get it out there, but Dare participants do get several advantages over your regular game student. In my opinion, there’s only two that really matter: a real deadline and real feedback.
The reason 90% of student game projects never get finished is that they have no proper deadline. When there is no pressure to finish on time (or if you haven’t even set a deadline!), you can’t really be surprised when feature creep makes the game impossible to finish or the team moves onto doing other projects. A real, honest-to-goodness deadline forces you to properly plan, schedule and scale the concept so you actually have something resembling a finished product at the end of it. And nothing makes this more acute than having to put the finished product in front of the public.
The feedback part is even more crucial (or even more absent in regular student projects). From what I’ve seen student games often get made in a very insulated environment. They start with an idea that is going to be TEH BEST GAME EBER!!1. A couple of months later, when the game is “finished”, the team is absolutely flabbergasted when their teacher/game tester is playing it ALL WRONG and complaining about stuff that’s totally not important, like controls. And because the game only ever gets shown to their teachers or course mates, there’s not always enough pressure to drive you to make it as good as you can. It just needs to be “good enough”.
Dare teams get feedback during and after the project. They get the benefit of having constructive criticism when they still have time to fix the issues, and they get it from industry pros! Also, the looming threat of ProtoPlay and having to show off the game to the public keeps them focused on making their game truly the best it can be. The public has no reason to pull its punches and neither has the BAFTA judging panel. Dare to be Digital creates an environment that is not insulated, and the risks and rewards associated with it are more real.
Anything is possible with real deadlines and real feedback
In addition to those advantages, Dare teams also get access to platforms and software they normally might not, media and industry attention from here to there, plus an excellent chance to network. However, to me the deadline and the feedback are the meat of it. They form the core benefit of the experience from a job perspective. They correspond to the actual game development environment: having limited time to make a game that interests the public. It’s not always like that, but I don’t want to get derailed from the topic – so let’s agree that it’s close enough as an approximation. The toys, media attention and the networking – they’re just gravy on top (a very, very nice gravy, I must admit).
Even if only one of the teams will score that coveted BAFTA Ones to Watch award, I believe they are all worth watching. They now have the experience many of their peers lack.
So, if you – a student interested in making games – are reading this, gather a team and try to get into Dare to be Digital next year. Or if you can’t wait a year, start making games now – just set a real deadline and get real feedback.
P.S. We’ll soon have a follow-up blog post about ProtoPlay!