12 July 2022

Game Design students take internship at their own game studio

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The hit of the Night of the Nerds event in the Fontys ICT InnovationLab was the first game that students could play upon entering; Yokufa. An ability-based arena brawler, according to Joey Vogelzangs: "It's a real party game that you play with friends on the couch. Having fun together, that's what we want. Here we see our vision come to life." Together with fellow students Joe Hooijmaaijers and Max van Diepen, Joey started a game studio. That's not so easy during your studies.

Choosing your own route

In their third year, Joey and his companions were going to do an internship at a game studio: "A teacher wanted to give us a chance at his studio, but the nature of the assignment was such that there was a lot of risk of confidentiality. So that fell through and we were without an internship." The trio had been toying with the idea of their own game for some time, and decided to turn the six months of lost time into a blessing: "Yokufa was born then, and we decided to work that out in six months. Our professors got wind of this, and given our track record, they offered us the chance to use this project, as a business, for our studies."

High bars and extra workload

You might think; cool, combining your internship and your own business! But Joey explains that it's a tough task: "You still have to achieve your learning goals and gather evidence. Only in our case there is no supervisor to help us, no lead developer to validate our work, you have to do everything yourself. Oh, and you have to go into business! We were warned about the many 'red flags' in this process, because you have to monitor everything yourself." There was no formula to follow for Joey and his team. However, there is the Center for Entrepreneurship within Fontys: "We found out about that later, but I don't think we would have chosen it. The goal of our studio is always the product, not the company itself. We want to make things that we stand behind. If you look at the current game industry, you see how a focus on business often comes at the expense of good game design, we want to guard against that."

Upside-Down Perspective

Fortunately, there was support from the lecturers, who made their networks available. Via teacher Luuk Waarbroek, Joey came across SintLucas for game artists: "Those students can take our game to the next level. Here too we had to make sure we knew what we wanted, because as a college student you are going to supervise an intermediate student as the commissioning party. That has to go well, otherwise you won't come back." Meanwhile, the fourth collaboration was completed and also worked with the Rockcity Institute, located in Popei and the Metal Factory on a game soundtrack and the sound effects: "There are few clients from the entertainment industry, so we also offer music students a unique opportunity to collaborate on a complete audio-visual product. Soundtracks and sound effects are extremely important in this and we have had talented interns. It does get complicated in your internship report, where you have to tell about your interns and then that whole perspective gets pretty turned upside down."

Pioneering Game Design Students

Nevertheless, lecturers are also positive about the process of Joey, Joe, and Max: "It's pioneering work to figure out how you can start a business and at the same time connect with your learning goals. The study programme is open to it, but it is not yet equipped for it". Their project is seen as a textbook example of what game design entails; user experience, business insight, entrepreneurship and independence. Michael Schifferling, semester coordinator and lecturer in game design, sees potential in the project and perhaps a connection with the lectorate that deals with applied (serious) games and XR: "We notice that fast and agile companies pick up new techniques quickly, but also that starting a small company is risky. Incubator constructions can help to give such a startup room to prove itself. Since the alumni were students themselves only recently, they can also assess very well where education can help them and vice versa. This can be in the form of inspiring group projects, internships, workshops on new technologies but also in the form of doing research together with lectorate projects. In these projects, the emphasis is on knowledge development and not on production, which is a follow-up step that the startups can help with."

Next Steps

Yokufa is a great "passion project" for the team and proof of their abilities. The team at Studio Starfisher wants to put a finished demo on gaming platform Steam, but is also working hard to make the studio viable. A vision is good, Joey states, but your company needs to ensure its existence: "We're graduating, and after that we're on our own. So now we're looking at assignments and opportunities within a b2b environment for funding to get the studio up and running. We're working on a big commission for application of game design in the digitization of hands-on education. There are many opportunities in this, licensing models for example. But ultimately we want to enable ourselves to just make good games. That's what it's all about."

Advice for students who want to go into business is certainly in Joey's hands, but he is cautious: "You have to really want to do it, because you're really getting something out of it. Enormous responsibility and more work, but you also have to have a strong vision. You have to collaborate, network and outsource. The training is not set up for it, but it is possible. It's not easy, but it's pretty awesome."

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