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From Student to Developer: Insights from Game Day X

Attendees playing indie games pre-release. Credits: Tanya Kapur
Attendees playing indie games pre-release. Credits: Tanya Kapur

Staff Writer Wyatt Au Young covers the recent Game Day X event at Strand Campus and interviews its CEO Tanya Kapur on the game industry’s new developments and challenges.

Game Day X was a fantastic opportunity for game developers and students to network and learn from industry professionals. It took place at Strand on April 24 as part of the wider London Games Festival that ran from April 9 to 25, organised by The Hub 175. I was fortunate enough to have an interview soon after with its CEO, Tanya Kapur, who shared the insights into her organisation, Game Day X, and the game industry.

The Hub 175, started ‘by students for students’, is a London games community that aims to create a network for students and aspiring professionals. In the interview, Tanya elaborated on the mission of the organisation: to help students grow through forging impactful connections, providing access to hard to reach technologies, and battling financial barriers. I also her asked about the main objectives of Game Day X, which involved a festival and a conference. She stated that the festival aimed to champion indie games, showing their diversity in both genre and the development stage, as well as showcasing new technology in the industry. The conference focused on networking, talks, and workshops led by a wide variety of industry professionals who have worked on AAA games (an informal classification for games with high production costs), indie games, or often both.

The Games Festival

The games festival took place in the Great Hall in King’s building, where attendees could talk to the developers while playing their games pre-release. The games extended across many genres – one booth featured a party game where you solve word puzzles as ducks. Another booth showcased a survival horror game, where you explore a corrupted world as an arctic fox (FOQUES). Exciting new tech was also exhibited, including VR treadmills and a flight simulator.

I was able to talk with the developers of FOQUES, who offered me great insight into the game development process. They started development several years ago in university, and won £7,500 in funding and further support through the Tranzfuser competition, provided by the UK government. Their team is composed largely of programmers and artists, sharing the roles of narrative design and writing. Other parts of the game like the soundtrack were outsourced to contractors. In chatting with them, it quickly became clear that passion and teamwork are at the core of their studio. However, it is important not to romanticise game development as simply a band of friends working on a passion project – there are many challenges. They have to balance full-time jobs with game development, resolve conflicts effectively, and are still seeking funding. These difficulties are almost universal among indie studios.

The Games Conference

Fortunately, the conference aimed to give practical and authentic advice for attendees. Tips on improving employability were discussed by professionals Lucy Kyriakidou (artist) and Tiffany Wild (gameplay programmer) in ‘Demystifying the Portfolio’. While other talks were more design and business oriented, such as ‘Fail Fast and Fail Better – An Iterative/Agile Methodology’ and ‘Beyond Games the Business Skills 101’. All the talks and workshops can be found here. An additional ‘Games Den’ later in the day allowed developers to pitch ideas or seek personalised advice from industry experts.

Speakers Lucy Kyriakidou and Tiffany Wilds on demystifying the portfolio. Credits: Tanya Kapur
Speakers Lucy Kyriakidou and Tiffany Wilds on demystifying the portfolio. Credits: Tanya Kapur
The Future of the Game Industry

Hadeeart (3D fashion designer) and Holly Bruce (3D modeller and artist), who both have over a decade of experience in their fields, also discussed the current and future outlook of the game industry. It has been suffering since 2023, reaching a record number of layoffs this year, in large part due to employers cutting costs post-pandemic. Major developers and publishers such as Riot Games and Epic Games saw 11% and 16% of their workforce laid off, while 900 and 670 employees were laid off at Sony and Electronic Arts in February alone. Those working in the game industry are well aware of these issues, with a survey from the organisers of the 2024 Game Development Conference (GDC) having found that 56% of developers are worried about future layoffs.

While the industry appears to be trending downwards, the speakers viewed this as a temporary dip in a growing industry. In the interview, I asked Tanya Kapur what she thought about the game industry’s recent difficulties with the waves of layoffs, and its future prospects. She believed that the recent layoffs were caused by the natural downward turn in the cycle of the economy and overemployment during the pandemic. However, she also stressed the importance of being empathetic and understanding of the often difficult decisions employers have to make in cutting jobs.

The games market is still projected to rise in the next couple of years thanks to increasing interest over the pandemic and advancing technology. Games come in diverse forms and are fundamentally designed to entertain, making them accessible and enjoyable by nature. The growing incorporation of gamification, where game mechanics such as points and leaderboards are used to attract the target audience, have expanded into seemingly unrelated industries such as education and advertising. This broader integration suggests that the game industry is not only resilient but also has the capacity for exponential growth.

One question posed by an audience member also brought up the growing concern of AI taking jobs in the game industry. The GDC survey found that 4 in 5 developers were concerned about the ethics of Generative AI, both in exacerbating layoffs and causing copyright issues. While respondents in more technical fields believed AI would have a positive impact on their jobs, those in creative fields felt otherwise. Nevertheless, both speakers found the current AI technology too basic to replace artists and designers. However, they agreed that it would be helpful as a tool, especially in the more simple and tedious tasks.

Attendees listening to a talk. Credits: Tanya Kapur
Attendees listening to a talk. Credits: Tanya Kapur

While the game industry is currently experiencing a period of difficulty and facing uncertainty regarding the impact of AI, events like Game Day X help to encourage and prepare the next generation of developers. By narrowing the gap between the professionals and the aspirers, the path to success becomes less daunting. Tanya Kapur stated in the interview that Game Day X will return next year, with talks, workshops, meet-ups and more being planned. The Hub 175’s Discord server offers a place to stay up to date with future events.

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