Interview: PlayStation First and the Gaming Community

Hour of Code has come and gone; the reviews are jumping all around the interwebs (my own is coming shortly). But was it enough for your kids? Did your spawnlings savour the taste of coding … and then ask for more? And is coding really enough for them to start their career in-game development?

Lucky for you I found a few programmes for your spawnlings to join, starting with PlayStation First – an awesome incubator programme affiliated with colleges around the world. Not only did I gain a better understanding of the training available to budding game developers, I also had the opportunity for a one-on-one with the head of the programme.

PlayStation First is an academic development programme that works with established colleges to create video games to be used with PlayStation consoles.

Image courtesy of PlayStation
Image courtesy of PlayStation

For example, PlayStation First has been working with the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE), and subsequently an Australian gaming studio Nnooo. Together, they have identified promising students at AIE and fast-tracked them through the PlayStation First programme.

The programme has worked so well, PlayStation First had its own stand at PAX Aust and showcased eight (8) student creators with demos of their new games. The games are limited to PlayStations only, but it’s the business skills they learn within the programme itself that really make the difference.

These guys learn how to SELL their games. Game design and development is fine, and handy to know. I am in no way disrespecting the development. But this programme is a full incubation experience. There is nothing more painful than watching a budding game developer absolutely choke while giving a pitch, subsequently losing the opportunity and any confidence they had to develop another game.

So when the chance came up to interview Dr Mara Stukoff (Head of PlayStation First, XDEV Studios SCE Europe), I jumped at it. The more budding developers I share secrets with, the more it disrupts the industry. And disruption isn’t a bad thing; that’s where true creativity and initiative lie.

Interview:

EG Mum (EGM): When it comes to the teams themselves, what are the three most important features you are looking for – the features that make you think “these guys can go even further”?

Dr Maria Stukoff (MS): That they’ve made something already! It doesn’t have to be a huge, sprawling, epic game. Just a game with one level can be enough. There are so many ways to make a game now and turn that idea in your head into something people can play.

MS: Then it’s about inspiration, creativity, passion – can you show us something that makes us keep wanting to play your game? Can you get us excited about playing your game? That’s where pitching comes in and knowing how to communicate your game idea effectively. It’s a skill everyone in the industry needs.

EGM: Considering your attention to creative expression and development, where do you consider console development to fit in?

MS: In terms of students taking their first <steps> into the game industry, knowing how to develop and publish on a next gen console is a huge advantage. What better calling card is there for any young game developer than to show off their first game published on PSN? That’s what the buzz around PlayStation First is all about – we’re giving students the opportunities to become a part of the PlayStation developer community. And we want PlayStation to be known as the best place to play games made by the best developers.

EGM: While the focus of the programme is on older students and developers, what pointers would you suggest to younger developers considering this path?

MS: Make something! It’s the same message for anyone interested in a career in games. With the likes of Scratch and GameMaker and many other game engines available, there’s never been a better time to get started in games. And through PlayStation First we’re supporting requests to integrate PlayStation consoles into the classroom. The aim is to get young kids to unleash their inventive and creative talents using PlayStation as a unique digital learning platform.

LittleBigPlanet (LBP) on PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, for example, allows teachers to see their lessons come alive through the action of game creation using the level builder as a creative space in the lesson. Our motto is simple: Don’t just be a consumer of digital technology – become a maker and creator!

EGM: What was the turning point in your career where you realised you wanted to guide and nurture the next generation of creative genius in software development?

MS: My first ‘teaching’ job was back in 1993 when I graduated from the Australian Centre for Art and Technology (ACAT) at ANU Canberra, teaching an after-school animation club how to make digital animation on Amiga Commodore computers. It was so much fun to both create and make their stories come alive while learning the craft of animation and design. And I never stopped teaching others or exploring digital media for my own practice from then onwards.

/end interview

While at PAX Aust, I also had a chat with some of the graduating students from the programme. When I asked them what they loved most about the programme, the answer was universal: The Entrepreneurial Setting.

These students gain access to training and tools provided directly by PlayStation, with hardware that is often out of the reach of general students. They have the opportunity to develop skills to create games for established and highly successful systems – and yet what they appreciate the most is the skill to turn it into an ongoing business.

That’s smart in itself. If you have the skills and passion for creating a game, then you are already there. But you need to learn how to bring the financial backing as well. In turn, this feeds back into the industry, encouraging growth both financially and creatively.

PlayStation First isn’t the only game development incubator on offer, but it is the first of the “Big Names” to partner up with some of the smaller colleges. PlayStation First is affiliated with over 100 Universities worldwide, so you have a fair chance of finding one near you.

Alternatively, ask your local college about its partnerships and mentor programmes. Question the education programme about what they can offer beyond the ‘taste of coding’.

Developing a cool game is only the first step; Now you have to turn it into a journey.

Evil Genius Mum is taking over the world from the comfort of her EG Lair Down Under (Australia). She plans to reset the world in her own geeky image - because geeks do it better. From old school superheroes to technological gadgets, EG Mum is all about sharing the geeky world with her spawnlings - Sinister, Nefarious, and Zaltu. If they don't overthrow her first.