Early in June this year, 15 student teams set out on a journey that may ultimately lead them to the video games BAFTAs.
They are the latest entrants to the Dare to be Digital development competition, which gives each team just nine weeks to make an entirely new game. They are, however, supported by experienced industry mentors, and provided with facilities by organiser Abertay University.
Each of the games created goes on to be shown to thousands of members of the public at the free Dare ProtoPlay computer games festival, which this years runs from August 8th to 11th in Dundee’s Caird Hall and City Square in Scotland. There the creations will be judged by industry experts and the public, before a final selection are put forward for the BAFTA Ones to Watch Award, presented at the main BAFTA games ceremony next spring.
The team members themselves will learn about the mechanics of games development, scheduling, team structuring and even promoting their games, but there are also far less tangible benefits; one being confidence in their ideas and abilities.
Confidence in that context can also serve as a foundation for many things for young developers, including the ability and will to be entrepreneurial and self-publish.
And looking back over the recent winners of the contest’s associated BAFTA award, the idea of tackling every aspect of running a games studio is clearly something that Dare entrants embrace.
“Dare to be Digital does a great job promoting this mentality that there are many other things to making a game product than simply developing the game,” says Kimi Sulopuisto of Kind of a Big Deal, which won the BAFTA Ones to Watch accolade in 2013.
“The teams are very much responsible for their PR – blogs, Facebook and so on – print art and decorating the ProtoPlay booth, and creating their own image. It’s a challenge, but it’s also very exciting.”
And Sulopuisto is not alone in his experience of the event.
“Dare made us think about creating a commercially viable product, so that when we were finished we realised that if the game was good enough to win the competition it should be good enough for the general public,” states Sophia George, BAFTA Ones to Watch winner with the rest of the Swallowtail team in 2012.
“We had a lot of praise from the Dare mentors that their children would enjoy our game Tick Tock Toys, so we felt very encouraged by their support.”
And George, who was recently instated as the V&A gallery’s games designer in residence, has plenty of lessons to pass on to other entrants having learned much from Dare herself.
“Think about the big picture: the product, monetisation, social media integration, PR,” she says.
“None of these things should be an afterthought. The act of uploading your game to Google Play or Apple’s App Store or whatever is the easy part. But hitting home with the whole package; well, it takes a lot of work. On the other hand, remember that your game is the core of your efforts.”
A SENSE OF SELF
Talking to the entrants already underway with their creations this year, it’s also apparent that they are quickly developing a creative confidence and already eying the likes of self-publishing.
“We as a team are definitely interested in self-publishing our team and having support from professional games companies is what we look forward to and hope to achieve by the end of Dare,” offers Elbert Lim of Lunavark Studio, which is currently toiling away at this year’s Dare.
And it is self-publishing specifically that has already peaked the interest of another Dare to be Digital 2013 studio, Paper Planes, as the team’s Jane Barrie explains.
“The industry is changing and there are now more opportunities for consumers to get access to a wider range of games,” she states.
“Allowing a young studio the opportunity to self-publish gives them the chance to create games independently, rather than going through typical methods. Self-publishing allows studios to take more risks and therefore encourages creativity.”
Clearly, Dare serves as inspiring stuff for its studios; hardly surprising considering the company they are keeping.
This year the 75 student team members will receive mentoring from members of Dare’s Developer Accord, including Cobra Mobile, Codemasters, Denki, Jagex, Lift London, Ninja Kiwi, Outplay Entertainment, Reflections, Ruffian Games, Sega Europe, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Tag Games.
Teams from China, England, India, Ireland, Norway and Scotland have entered this year, and will be tackling making games for Android phones and tablets, iPad, iPhone, Ouya, PC and the Xbox 360.
If you’re keen to see what they create and meet some potential future talent, be sure to visit Dundee this August.
Read more about the Dare to be Digital contest here