Applications now open for Search For A Star

Sponsored article: Aadvark Swift's annual events give new opportunities to graduates looking to work in development

Getting into the games industry as a graduate isn't easy. Coders with great technical skills often get a shock when they realise those skills are entry level in an industry that demands excellence. It's tough to prove your ability without experience, to make good industry connections and to get in front of the right people.

To increase the employability of the next generation of games developers, Aadvark Swift has created a huge national initiative of guidance & education with Grads In Games, including a massive careers tour of 64 UK universities. We bring games career advice to those who need it, and give students the chance to learn from top studio representatives.

This campaign culminates in two annual competitions; Search For A Star and Sumo Digital Rising Star. These events offer graduates a unique opportunity to showcase their talents to UK studios.

There's a selection of fantastic prize packages for all our finalists, with the grand prize for the Search For A Star winner being a guaranteed job interview with one of our partner studios. For Sumo Digital Rising Star, it's a guaranteed interview for an exclusive internship with Sumo Digital, the Sheffield studio behind games such as LittleBigPlanet 3 & Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox 360. These competitions have grown year on year, with almost 250 entrants in 2014, and attracted massive support from within the games industry. Search For A Star is run in partnership with Microsoft UK, Unity, Sumo Digital, Exient & Boss Alien. Additional support for the competition and across our Grads In Games initiative is provided by Konami, Perforce, HackerRank, Bandai Namco Games, EA, 2k Games and Turtle Beach, as well as many individuals who have volunteered their time and expertise.

These competitions have grown year on year, with almost 250 entrants in 2014, and attracted massive support from within the games industry"

"The feedback from Gamer Camp students has been positive, as they feel it has given them good experience," said Ollie Williams, NTI Director at Birmingham City University. "The standard of testing and the level of industry involvement makes the process valuable." Just getting through the first round is recognised by studios as a huge achievement. In the 2014 competition, 80 per cent of students that passed the first round moved directly into a job in games development upon graduation, with the remainder opting for further study or other industries. Those that reach the final stages typically have a queue of studios competing to hire them.

The competition begins with a proficiency test in C++. All entrants are given a selection of questions that assess their knowledge of the language and ability to solve problems. It's exceptionally tough, developed specifically for us by a team of veteran game coders and modelled on the typical coding tests many studios use to evaluate potential employees.

Those that pass will go on to round two, a one week game development project powered by Unity. Here, they'll be given a deliberately broken, partially-constructed prototype to work with, and challenged to develop it into a functional, efficient and playable game, for publication on the Windows 8.1 Phone Store. Our team of judges assess each project as a published product, based on improvements made to the prototype framework, following the brief and developing new features.

"It's a great competition to be part of, it really helps showcase what the students are capable of.

Round two is the key to increasing employability; entrants will leave with a published game in their portfolio, elevating them above the competition to any prospective employer.

For those that ace the game development project, we have the Finals Day at the Microsoft TVP Campus in Reading. While it incorporates a final interview to decide on a winner, the entire day is a showcase event dedicated to all the finalists. There'll be a campus tour courtesy of Microsoft and we'll be joined by an expert team of mentors from across the industry, giving entrants direct one-to-one guidance sessions.

The Grads In Games initiative is designed to bring together studios and professionals across the games industry with UK students, lecturers and universities. This is achieved in part by our events and competitions, but also by providing a resource hub at of studio-backed guidance to help students achieve their goals.

"It's a great competition to be part of," said Richard Bangs, co-founder of NaturalMotion's Boss Alien studio. "It really helps showcase what the students are capable of."

"Search For A Star is essential to gauge the quality of the courses for the industry, it's a really valuable competition for everyone, and it's important to be involved in the process"

Our aim is to provide graduates with access to the best opportunities available. Showcasing their talents in competitions such as Search For A Star is a fantastic way of doing that - getting them in front of top studios, challenging their abilities and giving them feedback directly from professional games developers. Throughout the competition (and the wider Grads In Games campaign), everyone is given the encouragement and guidance needed to help them break into the games industry. It's not just about the students either. Progress through the competition, strengths, faults and studio comments are reported directly back to the university course leaders. We want to improve the flow of talent into the games industry, by getting feedback on students direct from game studios to universities.

"Search For A Star is essential to gauge the quality of the courses for the industry," said Dr Gareth Bellaby, course leader for Computer Games Development at the University of Central Lancashire. "It's a really valuable competition for everyone, and it's important to be involved in the process."

Applications are now open for this year's competitions - students can enter online at Course leaders and lecturers can also contact us directly to nominate their own students, or even whole tutor groups. The final date for applications to be received is the 15th January 2015.

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