ICT Students pioneering their own game studio as internship project

Fontys School of ICT
The hit of the Night of the Nerds event at 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 is not so easy during your studies.

Choosing your own route 
In their 3rd 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 it out in six months. Our teachers got wind of it, and given our track record, they offered us the chance to use this project, as a business, for our studies."

High bar & extra workload 
You might think: great, combining your internship and own company! But Joey explains that it is a tough job: "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 Centre for Entrepreneurship within Fontys: "We found that out 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."

Perspective turned upside down 
Fortunately, there was support from the teachers, who made their network available. Via teacher Luuk Waarbroek, Joey came across SintLucas for game artists: "Those students can lift our game to a higher level. Here, too, we had to make sure we knew what we wanted, because as an HBO student you are going to supervise an MBO student as a client. It has to go well, otherwise you won't be coming back." Meanwhile, the fourth collaboration has been completed and the Rockcity Institute, located in Popei and the Metal Factory also collaborated 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 welcomed talented interns. It does get complicated in your internship report, where you have to tell about your interns and then that whole perspective gets turned upside down."

Pioneering Game Design Students 
Nevertheless, lecturers are also positive about the process of Joey, Joe and Max: "It is pioneering work to find 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 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 at 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 a short time ago, they can also judge 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 big 'passion project' for the team and proof of their abilities. The team at Studio Starfisher want to put a finished demo on game platform Steam, but are also working hard to make the studio viable. A vision is good, Joey says, but your company needs to secure 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 are working on a large commission for an application of game design in the digitalisation of practical education. There are many opportunities in this. licensing models, for example. But ultimately, we want to be able to make good games. That's what it's all about. 

Joey also has some advice for students who want to start a business, but he is cautious: "You have to really want to do it, because you are really getting something out of it. A lot of responsibility and more work, but you must also have a strong vision. You have to cooperate, network and outsource. The training is not geared to it, but it is possible. It's not easy, but it is super-fun.

Tags: Education