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  • Managing Student Game Development Teams

    [09.17.15]
    - Adam Moore

  • Scheduling Challenges

    The 4 Hour Work Week

    Full-time students have a lot of work on their plate that takes precedence over your game. A full-time student is taking 12-18 credits each semester, which translates roughly into a 40-60 hour work week. A full-time student is working full-time on your degree, and you can only reasonably expect 4 hours of productive work each week from each team member! Over the course of a semester, they have less than two weeks of full-time work to commit to projects. As tempting as it may be to work on multiple projects at once, a student is better off committing their four hours exclusively to one project to see it through to completion.

    At the start of the semester, everyone has this perception that they have a lot of time to complete their work for the semester so there is this tendancy to try and do too much in a single release or to put off the difficult tasks to the end of the semester. In school, we've been trained through the years that the hardest task is always the final project or final exam, but in projects you frequently want to begin working on the hardest tasks early in the project to ensure that they get done.

    Scope Challenges

    Scope management for a student project is a pretty big topic - big enough to warrant its own article (which is coming soon). My scope management process is pretty involved and includes a mix of agile and waterfall practices.

    Since you have a four hour work week, I guarantee you that whatever your planned scope is, it is too large and needs to be adjusted.

    Legal Challenges

    There are legal challenges you'll face if you want to comercially release your student project. I would actually advise against building a student project with the goal of making a profit - you're better off starting a studio if you want to go that route. I actually recommend treating your student projects as learning experiences, releasing them for free, and entering them into student competitions.

    Intellectual Property Rights

    Even after all the work you put into your student game, you probably don't own the intellectual property rights to the game which means you can't release your game commercially. This may be some pretty bad news if you were planning on making millions by selling your game. The standard in the education industry is that your university takes ownership of what you create as a student. Make sure to check your university's intellectual property policies to avoid nasty surprises.

    I lucked out by working on projects at the University of Advancing Technology - students retain ownership of the works they create but grant the University a non-exclusive royalty-free license to use, copy, display, describe, mark-on, modify, retain, or make other use of student work consistent with the university's educational mission, and the university may use both the student's likeness and work in its marketing, promotional, and instructional materials.

    Solution: contract( )

    Even if you find a way to retain ownership of your intellectual property, you still need to get the intellectual property of the game assigned to one owner. As mentioned previously, students tend to come and go on long-term projects. The students aren't employees, so you need them to sign a legal document that assigns the intellectual property rights. As a student, a lawyer is going to be prohibitively expensive. Luckily, there is a free option - it's called docontract and it generates plain-English legal agreements.

    Educational Software Licenses

    Unfortunately, even if you follow the above advice you're probably working with software licensed for educational non-commercial use only. This means that the work made by a student project can't see a commercial release. That's going to put another kink in your plans to release your game commercially.

    Solution: Alternativeto.net

    Alternativeto is a great resource for finding free or discount alternatives to premium software that you could not afford a professional license for.

    Release

    This is an element of game development that students forget all to often - releasing the game. If you're trying to get a job in the AAA industry the hiring managers are going to care more about games you've shipped than games you've worked on. You may have heard the cliche, but it's true that the hardest work on a game project is the last bit of polish in the run up to release.

    Ultimately, you must release the game. Don't just stop working on it - make sure it's releasable before you finish working on it and ship it. It probably won't have all the features you wanted to implement and it might not look nearly as good as you imagined, but get it out into the world and into the hands of people that can play it and give you feedback. Feedback is how you improve as a game developer.

    There are several great digital distribution platforms out there these days. I'm fond of itch.io because it's easy to get your game on there and you can release your game for free. If the game is something you're proud of, make sure you submit it to the IGF student competition and talk to your university about entering it into the E3 college game competition.

    Was there something I discussed in the article above that you'd like me to explore in more detail? Have any questions? Post them in the comments below!

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