Why you should make a game for Imagine Cup 2011

I occasionally bump into students who say that Imagine Cup is too big a challenge for them. And while I understand it can look intimidating, the value of entering this competition – even if you don’t succeed – is one of those “chance of a lifetime opportunities” that you may regret later. This is true of every category of competition in Imagine Cup; for instance, I know of technology companies that specifically look for “Imagine Cup competitor” as a hiring point when looking for graduate hires.

But it is also true of the Game Design category – my particular passion. Why? Sure, you can go to a great game development and design school and learn the theory of video game creation. But most students – even if they have a passion for video games – will not do this, and end up studying classic Computer Science, Engineering or some other non-game specific area of study. If you’re lucky enough to study video game design specifically, you even get to create games as university projects, but again, most of these will not see the light of day outside the college you’re studying at. Some few will be shown to local industry, and others may be fortunate enough to be recognized as having potential and thrown into an incubator program. But in reality, these are mostly still practice at putting theory into play, proving that you did your study.

The Game Design category of Imagine Cup, however, is a very different situation. Here, your games are reviewed and judged by people in the industry. Not just some very smart people I work with here at Microsoft, but in the games industry at large, or in the media that covers the games industry, and your game gets in the face of a lot of people. Of course, the top finalists get a lot of the coverage, but it’s not all theirs. Throughout the competition, games students enter into Imagine Cup are promoted in various ways – by friends and family, by judges and Microsoft employees, and even by bloggers and journalists keen to keep abreast of what’s happening in this competition (I should also note that some students know that I’m working on a series of blog posts to showcase the top 150 games from last year’s round 2 – yes, it’s still coming, but it’s definitely on the way).

Why should you care about this? Well, if video game design or development is something that DOES interest you, you need to know that game companies look for things like:

  • people with real world experience,
  • graduates who have gone the extra mile beyond their mandatory study,
  • those who show creativity and the ability to think outside the box (“free thinking” is also good)
  • who can take requirements and make something of them.

Imagine Cup gives you all of that. Teams like Iredia (http://www.iredia.es) from Spain have released their game on Xbox Live already, and while they didn’t make it to the world finals in Poland last year, they’re obviously forging ahead and showing potential game industry employers that they have that indefinable gumption that makes a good game developer. Teams like By Implication (http://www.byimplication.com) from Philippines who went on to win last year’s competition have released their game for free to the world. This allows potential recruiters the chance to check out what they’ve done, and is a very smart move – they’ve proven to industry already that they have skill by winning the competition, and then they give that industry a chance to see for themselves.

The thing is – it is a chance for you to build a game outside the confines of your college’s study methodology. It’s a chance for you to build a REAL game you can go on to market and sell. And it is a chance for you to show that you can take someone else’s vision – in this case, the Imagine Cup theme – and make it into a playable game.

Yes, I often hear students say that they want to build their own game and they believe that Imagine Cup restricts them from doing this – not so, not really. Sure, a percentage of the judging goes towards the theme but the theme is quite general and, as evidenced by the sheer variety of genres (from shooters, to third person adventure, to puzzle, to strategy and beyond) and graphical styles (top down, 3D, pseudo 3D isometric, cartoon, realistic, etc) and themes (modern city, futuristic, fantasy world, third world country, war zone, farm land, and more), is totally malleable into something that can work with most ideas. But it’s also important to remember that the industry doesn’t need every game developer to be uniquely creative, but they do need a lot of game developers to be able to take someone else’s vision and realize it into something playable. This competition allows you to do that.

We have some great resources on hand, from the forums and people eager to help out, to all the developer tools you need, and educational resources that can show you the way to building your own game.

Take 10 minutes to explore and see whether it just might be possible to do something you have dreamed about but have been too nervous to try for.


For the US students who read this, please note that there is a US local competition for Game Design too – you MUST register for the two competitions separately, but I see that as giving you a second chance and an extra opportunity to get your game exposed to the industry and potential players (read, buyers of your future game) too. So, register at both the World site and the US site!


Comments (2)
  1. Kenneth Yu says:

    Heya Andrew!

    I was just reading through this, and I had a thought.

    On the point that some people think the Imagine Cup's rule-sets are restrictions:

    In my head, they don't really work that way. I'm sure this may not be the case for some people, but some people work better with a parameter or two. And I think that's how people need to look at the required themes and structure of the Imagine Cup, especially in game design. They're not restrictions that keep you from doing what you want, but parameters that give you a rough framework to build your idea around.

    With a theme to work with, it can be a lot easier to figure out just exactly what you want to say with your work. It can be a lot easier to find that emotional hook that you've been looking for, to really give a game its heart. It can be a lot easier to make important gameplay design decisions. It can be a lot easier to make your way to that all-important "Heeeeey, what if…?"

  2. Yes Kenneth, I agree. True "free thinking" is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Having absolutely no parameters, no restrictions, people can end up spinning wheels in indecisiveness. Having Imagine Cup provide just a little bit of structure, as well as some dates to work towards, helps enormously. 🙂

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