Last week, we sat down with the Windows 8 Games Studios team to get a feel for what the winner of the Ultimate Experience contest could expect. We left with some nuggets of advice worth their weight in gold. Rather than keeping those to ourselves, we decided to do the cordial thing and share with the community. From gamification to pursuing passion projects, here’s some worthwhile advice to get you ahead of the game – no pun intended.
Make it excellent on touch
Game designer Kevin Lambert said, “Right now tablets and touch-enabled devices are gaining a lot of momentum. Soon everyone will have it.” Kevin helped redesign elements of gamification into classics like Solitaire and Minesweeper on the new touch-enabled Windows 8 so he knows what he’s talking about. Be ahead of the curve and build the functionality into your app or game now.
Make collaboration a priority
“Always going to have friction between those saying “make this great” and others saying “this is great, now let’s make it DONE” – push the technology and make it awesome, but don’t lose track of the end objective.
Be specific about your audience
Developers who can say “Women, age 35-55, who love Real Housewives” are going to build a better game because they are targeting their experience. If your audience is “everybody” your game design and mechanics are going to be great for nobody.
Gain experience through smaller apps
Developers that are eager to strike it rich on their first app should be patient. You learn a lot of lessons your first few times at the rodeo. Worry about monetizing once you’ve gotten any initial bumps and bruises out of the way.
Want to Get a Foot in the door at Microsoft? Build what you love
It’s all about displaying a passion and knack for technology. Learning your lessons and proving you can do it on your own is the best way to moving into a role with Microsoft when the time comes. The excitement and enthusiasm that comes from building an experience from scratch will only impress recruiters, so keep working!
The Windows 8 Games Studio team wants you to know how awesome it is to be a game designer. We recently met with them to get a preview of what it’ll be like for winners of the Ultimate Experience contest to go backstage with the team as they work.
Haven’t heard of the Windows 8 Game Studios team? You’re in for a treat: The group plays a big role in creating innovative games for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the Xbox service. You love game design, they love game design—perfect match.
Here’s Jeremy, Frank, Paul and Kevin. A minute with them and they spilled career advice for developers, tips for developing on new touch-based devices, and insight into what technology we should all be excited about. We left with a slightly more severe gaming addiction, and some great insight into the current and future state of game design.
Meet Kevin: The Designer
Kevin is one of those lucky people that knew exactly what he wanted to do for a career when he was 10 years old. “I saw Pac Man at an arcade and I knew that I wanted to make things like that.”
A few years and a degree in Computer Science later, Kevin pretty much nailed it. These days, he spends his time figuring out how to make games fun: “My goal is to make game mechanics really cool.”
Based on the rest of our chat, I learned that “really cool” generally means excellent on touch, targeted to a specific audience, and addicting. Need some examples of Kevin’s principles in action? Take a look at the recently released Adera an episodic adventure game uses a tablet’s accelerometer and immerses the player in a stunning visual environment.
Meet Jeremy: The Developer
To get the vibe of the developer side of the house, we talked to Jeremy, who has worked on a lot of projects for Windows, Xbox, and Game Studio. “I thrive on ‘v1’ projects. It’s extremely challenging and equally satisfying.”
If you get the chance to meet Jeremy, make sure you pick his brain. He’s helped shape everything from the apps Marketplace to mobile apps and data visualization tools. His favorite project to date: getting software ready for the Surface.
Jeremy wants you to know: With Windows 8, there is no shortage of work making applications amazing for touch. “The touch interface and new form factors are letting us re-design everything. It’s a really cool time.”
Start Your App Adventure
Enter the Ultimate Experience contest and win a chance to spend the day hanging out at Microsoft Game Studios. Join a coding session with the people who build games for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the Xbox service. We’re not competitive or anything, but if you’re the winner, just remember: We met them first.
Developers sometimes feel that when it comes to their career they have a choice to make: build solutions for the greater good or focus on bringing home the bacon. We don’t think you have to choose one or the other, and we tracked down last year’s Imagine Cup winners to prove our point for us.
[Left to Right: Taylor Mullen, Keith Ayers, Matt Lesnak]
It’s been less than a year since the Drexel Dragons built an award-winning mobile app that is as educationally beneficial as it is fun to play. Not only did their MathDash app take home 1st place at last year’s Imagine Cup, it landed them roles at Microsoft where they are dreaming and building the next big thing. We picked the team’s collective brain to get some pointers for this year’s Imagine Cup contenders and gleaned lessons that mobile app developers can take to the bank along the way.
How an Award Winning App Gets Started
Have you ever started a project and half way through decided to scrap it? Keep tabs on your mobile app graveyard – it worked for these guys.
“A long time ago we made a Math game for K-4 kids in a class as a throw-away project and we noticed that everyone, even our older friends, loved it. The game wasn’t close to MathDash is now, but the basic operations were the same. We wanted to improve it, but didn’t have much time. Later, when we saw the opportunity to enter the Imagine Cup with our game, we jumped on it.” –Keith
Just because the Dragons had a good idea of what they wanted to create didn’t mean it was easy. But knowing their final product would be critiqued by investors and industry thought leaders provided all the motivation they needed to put in extra hours on the project. And many of those extra hours were spent doing things way outside their comfort zone.
“Because of the small team size, all of us had to wear many hats throughout the project. For my contributions, I was the project manager, a programmer, one of two artists, and handled research on the educational component behind the game.” - Matt
Developers and Imagine Cup Contestants Everywhere: Heed This Advice
Competing in and winning Imagine Cup is much akin to launching a startup and getting funded, all in a matter of weeks. That’s precious experience that aspiring developers and entrepreneurs can learn from.
“Don’t get too attached to any particular feature of your project. Sometimes, a feature that you design or implement yourself holds a special place in your heart and you’re reluctant to see it get changed. Instead, get attached to your project and be willing to make whatever change is going to make it that much better.”- Matt
“Start a project that has meaning to you. Your passion for your project will shine in everything that you do, whether it be the development or even the presentation. If you don’t believe in your project how can you make someone else believe in it?” –Taylor
As for Imagine Cup here’s one nugget of advice to live by: building something great is just the beginning. The team that holds the giant check and hoists the trophy over their heads knows how to get others excited about their idea, and make a beautiful user experience.
“Game design was everything for us. We didn’t make the most technologically advanced game or the most content, the magic was the design – we had a game that was both fun and helped players with their math at the same time.”- Keith
“Focus on your presentation. A great project is necessary to win the competition, but the key is to know how to present your project and get people excited about it. That generated excitement is what will differentiate the winning project from the rest of the pack.” - Matt
What Happens After You Ride into the Sunset?
“To make an impact in the tech industry and learn the latest and greatest technologies there’s no place better than Microsoft. Currently I’m developing prototypes in an IT research team where things are always busy and interesting. I’ve already made tons of friends and mentors, and I’m well on my way to spending a 6-month rotation in MS Studios doing gameplay programming.” -Keith
“I am now working as a Producer in Microsoft Studios. This means that I help provide direction to the products I am working on and keep the team organized and focused on meeting the project’s goals. I decided to pursue working for Microsoft because it offered me the opportunity to break into the game industry and continue doing what I love to do.” -Matt
“I am working on the ASP.NET SignalR team where we focus on making it easier to develop real-time communication enabled application for developers. It’s been a blast so far and not too long ago I finished my HTML5 multiplayer game ShootR which was featured at Build, throughout real-time presentations across the U.S., and is one of two products used to demonstrate the power of SignalR. When it came to job searching after college I knew that I wanted to make an impact in the tech world and I felt that Microsoft was the perfect place for me to do that.” -Taylor
Do you have an idea that could change the world for the better? Compete in Microsoft Imagine Cup 2013! Register now!
Want to create a winning Windows Phone and/or Windows 8 app like MathDash? Sign up for Generation App to get the hands-on developer support and resources you need to take your app from idea to market in 30 days, at no cost. Get started today! http://bit.ly/VIPv5l