Internships

Our Video Game Development Internship Program With Butler Community College IT Institute

Starting March 2016, we began accepting internships through Butler Community College for video game development.  While the paperwork for the Internship that Butler provides gives some information, it’s nowhere near as in-depth as I feel it should be before someone applies for the internship, along with many people interested outside of Butler.

Why Offer Internships?

Experience.  In Kansas, there are no large game development companies to go to work for.  If you get a degree, you’ll either be moving from Kansas to somewhere like Texas or California, or even move to Canada.  As far as I know, Midnight Ryder Technologies is the oldest game development company in Kansas, having been founded in 1999 specifically for video game development (though, the path has wandered many times over the years to include things like app development and web development.)  This isn’t the only company doing it, but there’s very, very few in the market.

My objection to degree programs in this area is simple: you’re probably not going to find a job here doing game development very easily.  I’m not saying a game development degree is a bad idea – any degree advances your skills in ways you may not have expected.  But, coming out of classes, well, you’re probably not going to find employment in the field for a company like Bethesda.

Instead, there are thousands of indie game development companies – however, working for them is a very different experience.  With a large company, you’ll work in an office, and deal with one very specific skill set.  You’ll start at the bottom, and work your way up until you burnout or are laid off (post-ship layoffs or studio closings are very common in the industry.  With indies, you’ll usually be working with multiple skill sets, and a great deal of it remotely.  You may not get paid up front, even, and instead end up taking a percentage of sales.

While there are a lot of big companies out there, there’s not as many positions available as you might think.  It’s like going to college specifically to play baseball, and discovering that in reality, you’re probably not going to make it into the Major Leagues, and at best you might make it to a local home team.  It’s not bad – you’re still getting to play baseball.  Just not how you expected.

Or, the other option is to form a team of your own locally, and handle the entire life-cycle of a product yourself.  This is actually the approach I encourage – why be at the whims of someone else?

After having done 10 games, a number of consulting gigs, and being involved in 17 years of the industry, one of the most important things when applying for a game development job, or trying to get funding to start a game development company, is to have experience in game development.  Yes, it’s easier to get into game development if you’re already in game development – it’s a little weird that way.  With this, you’ll have your name on a shipped title – no matter which direction you go, be it indie contractor, trying for work with a big name, or founding your own studio, you’ll be able to point at a game and say “I part of the team that did this.”  Even if it’s a small game, it’s makes a huge difference.

TL;DR – it’s time to take my experience, and help build a community of self-sufficient developers in Kansas, and help those who want to move on to other areas of the country find employment more easily.

What Does The Internship Cover?

The internship is geared towards the development of better game developers.  While I may encourage joining or founding an indie game development studio, one of the major goals applies to all forms of game development;  you will be shipping a video game, and you’ll understand the process from inception to post-launch support.

Teams of developers will be formed from the applicants, all answering to myself at first.  You’ll be working with quite a few technologies that are indie common, ranging from Google Hangouts for meetings to Slack for IRC style group communications.

Each team member will take a turn in every position of game development, except marketing:  everyone is part of marketing at all times.  Even if you strong point, for instance, is audio, you’ll still be taking a turn working with graphics, level design, programming, and design.  You’re not expected to be amazing at every position; instead, you’ll gain a firm understanding of what goes into each area of video game development.

After the first two or three months, a project leader will be selected for the first month.  After that, each month, a team member will be selected to be the new team member at random, until all members of the team have had a chance to experience the “fun” of keeping the project on track, along with dealing directly with me as a manager for the project.

Upon completion, all team members will help ship the product, dealing with all the intricacies of releases, including everything from the boring parts (uploading to various release platforms) to the exciting parts (talking to press).

After the game ships, all team members will also get post-release experience, handling bugs, planning potential updates, and understanding the intricacies of reporting systems and sales information for the product.

How Long Does The Internship Run?

The internship is roughly 9 months – in the first six to seven months, the team will be releasing a video game, leaving two to three months left over for post-release support and sales.

Or, you may join a team that focuses on short, rapid development and release projects (internally called the Shotgun Team).  Membership of the Shotgun Team also runs 6 – 9 months, but has a much faster release schedule and will be involved in multiple smaller game titles.

Is There Anything Special To Know About The Internship?

Yes, there’s a lot going on here that’s “uncommon”.  You won’t be sitting in an office – you’ll instead be using Google Hangouts, Slack, working in your own space, setting your own schedule, and rarely meeting up with your team mates in person.

Typically, when doing a video game, all assets are property of the company you’re working for.  In this case, you’ll have access to all assets (graphics, audio, etc) you (and your team mates in your project) create.  There’s two reasons for this:  first, this is an unpaid internship, even if you are getting percent of project (see “Do I Get Paid” below).  I believe it’s highly unfair to get exclusive access to your efforts under conditions like that.  Secondly, it’s a great starting point for new projects.  Instead of having to create temporary art when prototyping a game, you’ve already got something to start from, or even assets to reuse in shipped products.

Additionally, one of the hardest things to build up is a contact database of people to talk spread the word about your game.  So, a shared database of forums, Facebook groups, Twitter contacts, and email contacts is being built for all teams to use, even after you’ve completed the internship.

What Type Of Video Games Will You Be Working With?

Most games will be 2D games, ranging from arcade to “casual” to strategy titles.  The focus on realistically sized, 2D games improves the likelihood of success for the internship.  3D titles often have much higher number of man-hours involved, and a higher chance of developer burnout as a first time game developer.

You’ll be given a project and a team to work with, based on a game design that’s already prepared.  While the team will have a lot of leeway to work with that concept, the core concepts are provided for you, along with continuous guidance (to prevent issues like feature creep, among other things.)

What we won’t be working with is MMO games (there is one on my to-do list, but they are incredibly resource intensive), extensive RPGs, and multi-year development projects.

How Much Time Per Week?

It’s around 5 – 20 hours a week.  I’ll tell you up front, if you’re thinking about entering the game industry, it’s often a “live, eat, and breath the project” situation.  Unpaid overtime is common (to the point of lawsuits, and the State of California changing labor laws), 12 – 18 hour days during the final crunch before shipping is common.  What I want interns to do on this project is exactly NOT that – you have classes, a life, and sometimes even a job.  This is an internship, not a lifestyle.

Around 30 minutes to an hour a week is used for meeting time on Google Hangouts, communications, and project asset check-in.  The first Google Hangout meeting will last about an hour and a half, though, as the team gets settled into positions.   The rest of the time?  It’s how much you think you need to provide to work on a game project – this is a self-motivated project.  Then, there’s also the time you’ll spend working directly with me – that depends on what you’re working on, and what is needed at the time.  You’re not on your own, and you’re not just working with other interns – you’re also working directly with me, as this is an educational internship.

Every quarter there’s also a “face to face” team gathering – but, it’s a bit more informal than a meeting.  Instead, it’s a chance for the team to decompress a bit, talk about their experiences so far in the project, and how the internship setup can be improved for the next interns.  It will be held someplace were we can all sit down and eat and chat, such as The Anchor in Wichita.

Who Can Apply?

Anyone currently attending classes in the Butler Community College IT Institute (Interactive 3D, etc.) is encouraged to apply.  We are taking applications outside of Butler – see a bit more about that three answers below.

You’ll want to have a pretty resume.  No, I don’t mean a strong resume full of a long list of professional achievements.  I mean, a good, eye-catching resume.  Put extra effort into it.  Show me this is something you really want to do.  Game development isn’t all about good grades or awards – it’s often about much more about the effort and the creativity.  Lying on a resume is discouraged, as with any job application process, unless the lie is creative, unverifiable, or outlandish.

There is no discrimination in the process – I don’t select anyone based on race, religion, gender, disability, orientation, political affiliation, or your opinion on marsupials.  I look at your resume, your advisor suggestion, and if all goes well, a phone call with you for an initial interview.

How Do I Apply?

If you are a student in the Butler IT Institute, talk to your instructor (or, check your email, since you’ll probably see a mention of it showing up there), or sign up using the form below.

When Can I Apply?

The initial applications will begin in May, and accept or decline on for your application will be within a week of a telephone interview.  You will be placed on a team based on your interests, and what’s available.  Each team is 4 – 5 people and myself, and there can be multiple teams in production at once, based on the amount of time I have available to manage and educate teams.

Applications will continue to be accepted even after the team, or teams, are full.  You will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis as new team spots become available.  So, even if you don’t make the first cut, you still have a chance to join the internship.

Do You Accept Internships From Outside of Butler Community College?

Yes.  We’re opening it up to any current Kansas resident who’s a out of High School.  We do give preference to Butler students first, but are accepting (and have previously accepted) people who are interested outside of Butler.  Go ahead and apply, and we’ll set up up as part of the interview process.

Do You Accept High School Students?

After the beginning of 2017, we’ll be starting to open up applications to a second program, the Junior Internship.  However, we’re still looking into how to finance that, which is a complicated issue.

What Software / Hardware Do I Need?

You’ll need to have a computer, either Windows 7 or higher, or Mac OS X 10.9 or higher.

All software will be free or evaluation software, but, if you own products like Photoshop already, the can be used instead for certain portions of the development cycle.  However, do no use pirated copies of software for game development.  It’s bad karma to use a pirate copy of something on a commercial project.

What Platforms Will Games Be Released For?

Typically, most games will be released for iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and possibly Android TV platforms like the Razer ForgeTV.  It’s not impossible for a solid project to end up on the indie channels for XBox One or PS4.

Do I Get Paid?

No.  This is an unpaid internship.  But, that doesn’t mean you won’t be compensated – we’ll be doing this “the indie way”.

It’s pretty common for new, first time indie game development teams to not pay anything up front, but instead, take a percentage of product sales.  I’m not a fan of uncompensated internships, and there’s nothing quite as amazing as getting a check (well, PayPal transfer) for the work you’ve done.  Plus, if you ever get discouraged with game development, it’s always a pick me up to get paid for a game you wrote two years ago (you’ll be surprised how long you can see sales on a game.)

Can I Be Fired?

Yes.  Just like any job, you are agreeing to a certain code of conduct:

  • Discrimination:  I don’t discriminate against anyone on any basis.  You’re expected to provide the same level of respect for others.
  • Sexual Harassment: Do not make sexual jokes or make sexual advances against other team members.
  • Professionalism:  Treat everyone with respect.  No yelling or screaming at team mates to team leaders.  We’ve all heard of managers who yell at those under them.  That’s extremely unprofessional behavior, and is not allowed in the project (from any position.)
  • Laziness:  This is a self-motivated project.  No one is standing over your shoulder to make you work.  But, the work still needs to be done.  You pick how much time you need to complete your tasks.  Sometimes, life happens, and you need to deal with real-life issues.  I totally understand.  However, as part of a team, you need to make sure you part of the project it always moving forward (even if it’s slow).

 

Why Butler Community College?

For quite a few years now, I’ve been on the advisory board for various tech programs for Butler Community College.  Currently, I’m on the Advisory Board for the IT Academy, one of the grant programs, and the Early IT Admission program (ahem – for the later, I’ve yet to make it to a board meeting, I’ll admit.  For the others, I don’t know if I’ve ever missed any.)

The advantage to this, as a game developer with an interest in furthering game development in the local area, is that I’ve had a say in their direction.

Why Game Development in Kansas?

Well, the easiest answer is “because I live here.”  But, it’s longer than that.

Game development is something a lot of people ask me about.  There’s a lot of people who’d like to get involved here in Kansas, but there’s so few opportunities.  Even for indie game developers, there’s no network to build from, and very few jobs available.  That’s fine for those who are willing to move to new areas of the country.  But, for those with deep roots in Kansas, it’s incredibly difficult.  I know, because I’ve done it.

This isn’t the only endeavor involved in my attempts to improve and advocate for game development in Kansas.  Also in May, I’ll be launching the Kansas Game Developers’ Association, a community network for bringing people who are in game development together with educators and people who want to create games.  And, hopefully, help get some new game development companies started in Kansas.

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