There used to be a time when freshly graduated students on game courses looked directly to triple-A for their next step on the industry ladder.
Low-level positions in large teams offered – and still offer – a natural starting point for a new career.
But in today's world, where indies can be cultural giants with high profile games, a route direct from education to independent studio can see aspiring talent assume a role close to the helm of a well-known game.
It's an opportunity the team at Sony's PlayStation First education team have identified, and today they are helping the industry's next generation assume roles with bountiful opportunity.
But first off, just what is PlayStation First?
"PlayStation First is Sony Computer Entertainment’s Global Academic Program," explains Maria Stukoff, head of academic development at SCEE (pictured right).
"It’s all about inspiring and encouraging the new wave of developers to create games across all PlayStation platforms. It joins the dots between the best up-and-coming talent out there and our game development studios. It’s not about recruitment, it’s about culture: we get new developers familiar with PlayStation platforms and make them feel part of the family."
Practical familiarity with hardware and toolsets used in the industry is clearly a boon to employers, and as such SCE has partnered with several universities to prepare students for the working world.
"We ensure students get first-hand experience of self-publishing," continues Stukoff. "Having worked on PlayStation at an educational level it naturally means they are ideal candidates to join a development studio making games on our platforms. This is key to PlayStation First supporting Universities in a meaningful, impactful way. They are already part of the family and know how it works."
"PlayStation First provides the same level of support to our education partners as professional developers," adds Luke Savage, Academic Development Manager at SCEE (pictured below).
"This makes us unique. We see students as the next wave of PS developers, and why not? They are ultimately going to drive our onwards and upwards. Why not get the jump on things and make sure they get a flavour of it sooner rather than later. PlayStation isn’t a walled garden, this is game development made democratic."
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Taking students 'onwards an upwards', as Savage puts it, isn't just about helping them understand toolsets and publishing, of course. It's also about providing a route to meaningful roles in the industry. And it is on that point that the PlayStation First team have been helping universities link up with indie studios that provide significant opportunities, and a chance to work on titles that are likely to boost any portfolio's standing.
It's the reason Roll7, the South London team behind OlliOlli and its recent sequel, have taken some 50 per cent of their staff form nearby Goldsmiths University, having provided paid internships and full-time employment to students on the PlayStation First accredited course looking for their next step on the ladder.
"Our lead designer, Nikos, joined us in 2010 as an intern from Goldsmiths University," confirms Roll7 studio director Simon Bennett. "Petros, our coder, joined in 2013, and we’ve had four other interns take on various roles across OlliOlli and OlliOlli2."
At the same time, far from London, the PlayStation First team have helped form a bond between Sheffield Hallam University and Sumo Digital, meaning students have been able to step straight from their coursework to contributing meaningfully to high profile IP including LittleBigPlanet 3 and Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing Transformed.
"Over the last five years 15 of our students have obtained permanent or extended contract positions at Sumo – that’s about six per cent of their total workforce," offers Shelffield Hallam's senior lecturer in game development, Jacob Habgood. "Every year Sumo take on two one-year placement students specifically from our course, and they often end up going back there after they graduate."
THE VIRTUOUS CIRCLE
It's a relationship between SCEE, educators, students and game developers that forms something of a virtuous circle. The platform holder sees students and future talent become fluent in its tool and hardware ecosystem, universities are supported in their educating and what they can offer those on their courses, students enjoy meaningful training an employment prospects, and games developers are supported in their growth and development.
"We’re a small team, with technical requirements that we find hard to fill through traditional routes," reveals Bennett (pictured right). "Working in partnership with Goldsmiths University is a mutually beneficial relationship to nurture. Without Goldsmiths students, OlliOlli2 – and for that matter OlliOlli – wouldn’t have existed."
Furthermore, some of the universities involved have seen their courses supported proactively by the developers, with staff contributing lectures, insights and much other support.
"It’s an ecosystem," explains Stukoff of the initiative's dynamic. "It’s not one-sided. During recruitment, it can be tough for developers to find the right talent, the right skills and personalities. Fostering relationships between PlayStation developers and our PlayStation First Universities is crucial to making that process easier. Developers get to communicate to their future talent pool – on-site – what it is that they are looking for after graduation. We’re seeing the fruits of this in certain partnerships.
"Developers are mentoring students, delivering workshops to students on the practicalities of working in the industry," adds Savage. "When developers realise that they can essential help craft their own future employees, they feel compelled to get involved in a proactive, reciprocal way."
With a vast range of universities signed up, and increasing numbers of developers harnessing the potential of forming relationships with PlayStation First educator partners, the opportunity appears significant. And as the new era of indie strength becomes a consistent standard of games development, it appears independent studios are now at the very forefront of those opportunities, growing in strength and size while providing a new starting point for game development's new faces.
Find out more at develop.scee.net/academic/playstation-first