Dare to be Digital to offer a step into the games industry

13 Feb 2012

The gaming industry offers students some of the most “viable and exciting” opportunities in Ireland, according to Dr Stephen Brennan, director of marketing and strategy of the Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA), at the launch of the Irish leg of ‘Dare to be Digital’ competition.

The ‘Dare to be Digital Competition,’ is an international video-games development competition for third-level students, co-ordinated by the DHDA and supported by the North-South Cooperation Unit at the Department of Education and Skills.

The competition has a strong focus on cross-border links, as teams applying to the competition must include third-level students in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Successful applicants will spend nine weeks at Abertay University in Scotland this summer developing prototype video games and receiving mentoring from industry experts. They will also get a weekly stipend of stg£150 each, free accommodation in the university and a team budget of £200.

“This competition offers students a foot in the door of the gaming industry, which – without doubt – is one of the most exciting and booming industries in Ireland,” said Brennan. 

“Not only is it bucking the trend by creating jobs at a time of national recession, it is also continuously evolving in response to new technological developments. 

“Many of the jobs on offer in gaming today didn’t even exist four or five years ago.  And it’s not just those with technological or mathematical skills who should consider gaming as their choice of career – in addition to coders and programmers, it also presents opportunities for artists, designers, sound engineers, translators, marketers and animators,” he said.

At the end of the competition, the prototypes will be displayed at a talent showcasing event called ‘Dare ProtoPlay’, letting the general public and industry experts play and vote for their favourite games.

The three highest-scoring teams will receive prizes of stg£2,500 and the chance to attend the BAFTA Video Games Awards to compete for the ‘Ones to Watch’ award.

A stepping stone into the industry

“This is a very real opportunity for students to make a name for themselves within the games industry,” said Brennan.

“At Abertay, participating teams get to meet and work with mentors from some of the biggest names in gaming – companies like Sega, Sony and Rockstar. 

“In terms of career development, participating in this competition is invaluable – not only do students get fantastic networking and mentoring opportunities, but they also get to develop a prototype game, which for many of them goes on to present a viable business opportunity,” he said.

Nevermind Games experienced great benefits from Dare to be Digital, as the start-up games firm was established as a result of the competition.

“Two years ago, myself and four teammates competed in Dare,” said Alan Boyce, chief operating officer at Nevermind Games. 

“When we returned from Scotland, we set up as a games studio, establishing Nevermind Games. We were incorporated as a company last year, and we’re currently working on our first release for iOS, a 2-D puzzle game called TroubleSum.” 

Nevermind Games has been accepted onto LIT’s LEAP enterprise acceleration programme and will be looking for investment in the coming months. Boyce said the company will also attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March to increase its profile with international companies.

“None of this would have happened if we hadn’t participated in Dare. We received excellent mentoring at Abertay, and the encouragement and experience we received were instrumental in us deciding to establish our company,” he said.

Jamie McCormick, marketing manager at free-to-play multiplayer online games publisher Gala Networks Europe believes that, from an employer’s perspective, Dare to be Digital is a huge asset to a CV.

“If somebody approaches us who has participated in the competition, we know they have experience of working in an environment that simulates the real day-to-day working environment of the games industry,” said McCormick.

“Many participants will get jobs straight out of the competition, or go on to publish the prototype games they have developed. In these days of self-publishing, a competition like this allows students to potentially launch a successful game before they have even graduated from college.  Or they can approach a publisher – like Gala – with their prototype game.

“At present, I’m sure it can be a bit depressing for students who are approaching the end of their college years – all they hear about is unemployment, recession and emigration.

“But the gaming industry – right here in Ireland – has hundreds of vacancies. In Gala alone, we have more than trebled in size over the past four years. This is a young, exciting and vibrant industry, and I would strongly encourage students to consider the great career opportunities it presents,” he said.