Gaining experience as game developers

Gaining experience as game developers


Imagine arriving university the first day, and be told that with your newly assigned group, you are expected to come up with three ideas for apps to be published on the App Store and Google Play.

With Game Lab, NORD University offers students at Games and Experience Technology an insight into how business life works from the very beginning.

- This is a course with no traditional classroom teaching whatsoever. The students start the project by presenting at least three different ideas. Then, in collaboration with one or more external mentors, the subject teachers choose the idea we have the most faith in.

This is stated by Trond Olav Skevik, who is a university lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences at NORD University in Steinkjer.


Acting in the role of clients

During the study program, the students have six GameLabs, one every semester. The first one is kicked of by a three week boot camp to get acquainted with the method, and devise good ideas.

- We have a slightly different focus during the different semesters. It starts very open ended: we expect them to aim to high the first time around. A part of the experience and learning process is that when they begin, they will learn that it is very complex to make good applications, whether for entertainment, learning, or information. It is a lot of work and it requires working systematically.

The students are initially divided into relatively small groups.

- Ideally, the group is not larger than 3-4 people. It's a nice size when they're in the starting phase. Then it gets a little more complex. In the third year we allow the group to consist of 8-9 people, but only if we know that the group leader can do his job and take responsibility, Skevik explains.

And although there is no regular teaching in the subject, there is a strong connection to the rest of the study program.

- We make sure they get enough training in the other subjects, which are programming, drawing, 3D modelling, and game design, which goes in parallel. And of course, they get help and support along the way, but we start challenging the students pretty much right from the start.

Skevik and the other professional managers, together with the external supervisors, are the clients.

- The supervisors give tips and advice, but we also decide whether the project should be given more time, or whether it should be stopped. Bottom line is also like the real world: if they don't have enough progression, or if we see it getting too difficult, it's better if they start over. Then they must come up with three new ideas and start the whole process again, he explains. - I think we stopped three groups just this fall, Skevik explains.


Hardworking students

GameLab has been part of the study program since 2011, and was started in collaboration with game pioneer Dino Dini, who has been in the business since the eighties. Skevik says that in addition to making games and applications, the students also learn good working routines through this course. The hard way.

- Students tend to have a love / hate relationship with this course. Those who manage to get a good system and good routines often have a positive relationship with the Game lab. Those who do not get the same flow in it, or who struggle to get along with their team, can easily feel that it challenges their motivation.

The first semester gives the course five credits, while the other gives ten. This is also reflected in the hourly requirement. But every year the students always spend a lot more time than we require of them.

- Students have a requirement that they should spend eight hours a week on campus working on the GameLab project during the first semester. We have them documenting their activity and time usage, so that we get an overview of how they work and also how they work together as a team. The remaining GameLabs require that they work 16 hours a week. On average, the hours of the last GameLabs have been 20-25 hours a week.

The fact that students have become more hardworking is a trend that Skevik has noticed in recent years.

- The first-year students we receive now are different than former first-year students. They have a completely different skill level and are more focused from the start. This is partly due to the fact that we have changed the way we do admissions. We now ask students to include a portfolio and a letter of motivation. This has led us to peel away many who do not quite know what the study program they have applied to is really about.

The international environment at Steinkjer is large and diverse. This counts favourably for the quality of the study program, says Skevik.

- Those who come from all over the world are not primarily here to make friends. Many have saved up for a long time to study here for three years. Not all countries have support schemes to study in Norway, and we have students from all over the world.

The age range is also large.

- The youngest are 19 and the oldest is almost 40. So, there is a wide spread, both in life experience, knowledge, and skills.


Different backgrounds

And although the students have different backgrounds and skill sets as they begin their studies, the goal is that they will be able to find out, and to a greater extent, sharpen their competence during the course of the program. In some cases, this means completely changing direction.

- We have people who have come here with the goal of becoming a 3D modeler, but who have ended up being a fantastic programmer, says Skevik.

The experience from GameLab is that it also opens doors to more than pure game developer jobs.

- I've seen students get jobs with leader roles thanks to the experience they gained through GameLab. Some have also become teachers, and some have been gone on to jobs in other sectors, including in advanced automation and defence-related industry, Skevik adds.

How the teams are put together is no coincidence. This goes in line with the level of proficiency and the desire for the students to specialize.

- We start with small groups of only three to four people. It's a nice size when they're in the starting phase. In the third year, we allow the group to consist of eight to nine pieces, but only if we know that the group leader can do his job and take responsibility, he says, adding:

- If you are a member of a small team you must to a greater extent be able to fill all the different roles, but on a larger team you can have the opportunity to specialize. But on the other side, if you want to specialize in 3D, and end up on a team that makes 2D games, then you do not get to follow your ambitions. Therefore, we have to make sure we see the students and put the right mix of students on the different teams.


Easter quiz and shopping in South Korea

To get A in the three final GameLabs, students must launch the application on either the App Store or Google Play. It is therefore no surprise that this has resulted in quite a few games launched over the years, including some really popular ones.

- Recently, some of the students launched a VR game called OVRshot,and is a multiplayer VR archery game. It has received fairly good reviews and has actually been purchased by a company that produces entertainment for malls in South Korea, Skevik says.

Perhaps the most popular is perhaps a game that was a combination of Gamelab and a bachelor thesis.

- Some students made an Easter game a few years ago. It was a quiz app and therefore perfect for the cabin trip. It was on the top list of most downloaded games just before Easter that year, he concludes.


Gamlab in other IT studies

Through the center status, Excited facilitates the attention and interest of professional teachers, as do our leaders.

- Once we get the attention, we can be agile and quick to grant the little extra support that makes testing new methods much more feasible for the subject teachers in a busy everyday life.

Through the work with Excited, Girts Strazdins from Ålesund was interviewed by Robin Munkvold. Strazdins was one of the subject teachers who already taught using LtC methods and who was interested in testing out Gamelab in their subject. Girts then applied for and received seed funding from Excited in the form of a mini-project to test Gamelab in their field, a project that both was well received by the students, and was disseminated at a poster session at the Norwegian national conference for IT-studies, UDIT.

We asked the studens how they see Gamelab

We asked the studens how they see Gamelab