Every summer, the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland, brings students together from all over the world for a nine-week game development competition called Dare to Be Digital . Offering practical development experience, stipends, cash prizes and a chance to win the much-coveted Ones to Watch Award from the BAFTA Video Game Awards, Dare to be Digital is the perfect model of a progressive, practical, industry-sponsored student game competition.
For this year’s awards, DIG had the chance to talk to one of the thought leaders behind Dare to Be Digital: Louis Natanson, academic director for the Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games at University of Abertay, Dundee.
DIG: Tell me a bit about the origins of Dare to Be Digital. How long has the competition been around?
Louis Natanson: Dare to Be Digital is in its 12th year this year. It started in 1999 as an internal competition for Abertay students. The aim was (and still is) to create an experience that matures students beyond just skill acquisition -- thus producing the well-rounded talent that industry needs.
An important ingredient has been the involvement of mentors from the industry. It’s proven to be so successful that we started to include students from other universities in Scotland, and gradually -- with support from different sponsors like Intel -- it evolved into an international competition and attracted the BAFTA recognition. [Disclosure: Intel’s Visual Adrenaline magazine is the sponsor of this website.]
DIG: How valuable is the practical experience of taking part in the competition for students?
L.N.: It’s greatly valuable. Students get the chance to work on a game of their own idea, learn to work with people from other disciplines, pull off a project under tight deadlines as if in any commercial studio, get feedback from industry professionals, put their game out to the acclaim and critique of the public -- total strangers at the final showcase at Dare ProtoPlay. All these provide a valuable experience that complements their normal studies.
The experience is total -- developing a game from beginning to end -- and is 360 degrees: The development is looked at from all angles. Participating in the competition, students also form a network of industry contacts, which will help them understand how to pitch themselves for jobs in industry.
DIG: Dare to Be Digital is a natural extension of the academic game development program at the University of Abertay, Dundee. How important do you feel it is to have formal training available in game design?
L.N.: As in all creative areas, good formal training and education are important to unleash complete potential. We believe that formal education on its own probably isn’t enough and that it is important to create experiences for students, such as Dare to Be Digital, that allow students to really achieve their aspirations.
DIG: Any advice for future students and competition hopefuls?
L.N.: Think big. Making a game is more than just having an interesting idea. Getting a game made, seeing it being played by people and being noticed by industry is a wonderful experience. The courage that you display in putting yourself forward will repay itself enormously, and getting through will change your life.
DIG: What has the industry support for the competitions been like?
L.N.: The industry support has been great. Every year, we have industry leaders in their field offer cash, hardware, software, mentors and different sorts of in-kind support. Without them, the competition could not have been this successful.
This year’s sponsors and supporters include Intel, Medion, the Scottish government, Wacom, UKIE, NCR, Education Department of Ireland, Dundee City Council, EventScotland, Rockstar North, Blitz Games Studio, Cobra Mobile, Codemasters, Crytek, Jagex, Outplay Entertainment, Ruffian Games, Sony, BAFTA, NITH, Hansoft, Microsoft, Unity, Emotion FX, Headus, AB Software, TimelineFX, Acoustica, ZBrush, 3D-Coat and Unfold3D.
Stu Horvath is the managing editor of Digital Innovation Gazette, as well as the man behind the geek culture website, Unwinnable.com. Previously, Horvath has worked at the New York Daily News, Wizard magazine, Random House, CrispyGamer.com, and Joystiq.com . He is also a founding member of the NYC Videogame Critics Circle.