Epic Games’ European boss Mike Gamble opened the new Epic Games Centre at Staffordshire University last week, a partnership which will see students work exclusively with Epic’s UDK and also allow the studio host developer days at the institution.
Staffordshire University already offers several videogame-related courses, and with the new Epic Games Centre it hopes to attract yet more aspiring game developers to its campus in the midlands. Staffordshire alumni have gone on to work on GTAV at Rockstar North, Forza Horizon at Playground, and one star pupil was lead character artist on The Last Of Us at Naughty Dog. Prospective students face a battle to get in, though – Staffordshire’s courses are already over-subscribed, though it is looking to expand its offerings to reflect that demand.
The Epic Games Centre is the most significant development to have come from the partnership between the two thus far. A chance meeting between Staffordshire representatives and Euro boss Mike Gamble at the Make Something Unreal competition in 2012 first attracted Epic’s interest. Impressed by the quality of the work the students were producing, Gamble and Staffordshire University started talking more seriously about hosting the next year’s competition, which led to the formation of the Epic Games lab. Staffordshire students were already using UDK exclusively, but with this more formal partnership, Epic now also gets to use its facilities for its own developer education days during the summer and other University holidays.
So is this a way of getting a job at Epic? Gamble is careful not to over-promise. “In theory, yes, there’s no reason why a student shouldn’t get a job at Epic,” he tells us. “but they stand no better chance than any other student. Through the students’ exposure to our technology it gives them an advantage but they have to be very very good, same as anyone at Epic. There’s no hint that being involved gives them a fast track into Epic, that’s for sure.”
Bobbi Fletcher, head of game design at Staffordshire University, is overseeing a plethora of student game projects, from stealth games to combat racers. She’s confident that the training and experience gained during the courses on offer at the university will stand students in good stead once they’re out in the often brutal world of game development proper.
“We’re offering them skills that the game industry wants,” she says. “3D skills, game engine skills, building up their ability to produce games, to project manage, getting them used to things like SCRUM methodology so that when they go into the industry, they’ll be familiar with everything that’s said. There’s nothing worse than going into a new job and understanding none of the lingo.”
Epic’s developer days will also encourage interaction between students and the developers themselves. When the UE4 presentations and workshops are done, the networking can begin. In such a competitive climate, that might provide the foot in the door a student needs to lead a job, or gain a recommendation from someone in the business.
Some of the projects on show at the grand opening last week were striking examples of what can be achieved with UDK in a matter of weeks. Naturally, the most impressive were firstperson, but a broad range of genres were represented, some built with mobile and tablet touchscreens in mind rather than traditional controls. These students were enthusiastic, hardworking and enterprising folk – some also took part in this weekend’s Global Game Jam, as if their workload wasn’t enough already. How University study has changed.