The Dare to be Digital competition in focus

Dare to Dream

One of the best ways for graduates to get into games is through the Dare to be Digital competition. Here, project manager Elaine Russell discusses how it helps train people for joining the industry…

These days, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed career path, even in a relatively buoyant industry like computer games development. Even though the market is weathering the recession rather better than some other sectors, getting your foot on the first rung of the career ladder requires talent, determination and luck, especially when so many other people have their eyes set on the same goal.

Fortunately, there is a way in which aspiring young games developers can massively improve the odds in their favour, and it’s a well-trodden route that enjoys widespread approval among employers across the games industry.

Dare to be Digital, promoted and organised by the University of Abertay Dundee, has been the premier games design competition for students for more than ten years. It is unique in providing contestants with an experience as close to real life commercial games development as is possible without actually working in the industry.

Indeed, for most young developers who have undergone the experience, just having Dare to be Digital on their CV is often enough to get their job application moved right to the top of the pile.

“There’s no doubt that participating in Dare provides students with invaluable insights into how the industry works,” says Brian Lawson from Realtime Worlds. “It provides prospective employers with a level of comfort that these students are coming into the industry with a more realistic outlook than their counterparts, who are coming fresh out of university and into a real development environment for the first time.”

Dare to be Digital pits teams of talented students and graduates from universities and art colleges around the world against each other in a race to produce a fully-functioning prototype game in just ten weeks. As if this games development ‘hot-house’ atmosphere wasn’t enough pressure, the game then has to face a public vote and be judged by industry experts.

It’s the teamwork aspect that many studios see as being valuable experience for would-be employees, says Blitz Games Studios’ Aaron Miller: “Dare To Be Digital provides students with experience of perhaps the most important aspect of being in the games industry: working as part of a collaborative team who are striving towards a common goal, learning to look critically at your own work, understanding how it fits into the schedule and the project as a whole are key to the success of the project.

 “Students also learn that the game design as originally conceived on paper is rarely the game that they present at the end of the competition,” he adds. “The process of understanding when to remove game features that there is not time to fully realise them is also a crucial learning experience.”

This is a key reason why increasing numbers of games development companies are actively supporting Dare to be Digital by signing up to the competition’s Developer Accord. The Accord involves them in selecting the teams at the start of Dare to be Digital and providing mentors to support and advise teams during the competition. As well as Realtime Worlds, Blitz and Rare, last year’s Developer Accord also included the BBC, Cohort Studios, Denki, Ninja Theory, Rockstar North, Sega and Sony.

It’s not only a worthwhile experience for the students but also for those who choose to be mentors too, explains Lawson: “For mentors it’s a real shot in the arm to be exposed to the ideas and idealism that come from students who are bringing a fresh, untainted perspective to the whole game development process.”

Dare to be Digital will be running again in 2010, and will be inviting applications from teams this month. At the same time, the competition organisers are busy recruiting companies to join the 2010 Dare Developer Accord and take part in selecting and mentoring this year’s crop of new talent. The selection of teams will take place at the end of March and the beginning of April, and the contest itself runs from early June until the middle of August.

I am confident that this year’s Developer Accord will once again attract the best from across the UK’s development community. Of course, there are talent recruitment benefits associated with participating in the Developer Accord, but I know that the staff development opportunities for their own employees involved in selection and mentoring and the pure altruism supporting the growth of young talent are equally important factors. We’re really looking forward to working with the developers again this year.

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