Ruffian Games' Billy Thomson explains the University of Abertay's competition to find the development talent of tomorrow...

10 Weeks to Shine: Dare to be Digital

Over the years I’ve been asked one question more than any other: ‘What do I need to do to get a job in a game development studio?’ 

For years it was a really difficult question for me to answer. Thankfully that’s not really the case anymore. Ruffian Games is based in Dundee, Scotland and we’re really lucky to have the University of Abertay which runs a dedicated games development course that teaches its students everything they need to be ready for an entry level position in a games development studio. While that’s a huge benefit in itself, Abertay also runs an annual game design competition targeted at university students. The competition is known as Dare to be Digital and it began back in 1999.


The contest requires university undergraduates – or recent graduates – to form teams of five-to-six people. These teams must then design their game, create a production schedule and create a game pitch and present it to a panel of judges made up of experienced game developers from some of the best games studios in the UK.

If their pitch is successful – only 15 teams will be selected to take part in this year’s competition – they must then work together in a microcosm of a games development studio as they do their best to hit their incredibly tight 10-week deadline. The three key main criteria that Abertay asks its teams to meet are; be creative, have market potential, be technology smart. Nice and simple.

The main objective of this competition is to give the students a very real taste of the various processes, difficult decisions, mixed emotions and hard work that is required to take a game from initial concept through to a playable title that the public can experience and hopefully enjoy. While this is the main objective the more interesting side to this competition for me is the mentoring aspect.

Abertay asks several UK games development studios to provide mentors that can provide some guidance for the teams in each of the main disciplines of game development; production, design, code, art, audio, etcetera. This system allows a strong link to form between the students and the mentors and it’s this link that I believe is the key to the success of the competition.

Not only does the mentoring process help the students make the right decisions at the right times during their development time; it also allows the mentors to see which students are the driving forces of the teams – the ones who are standing head and shoulders above the rest. This provides a fantastic opportunity for the more talented individuals to show off their abilities directly to the mentors over the 10-week period, and many of them have gone on to secure full time contracts at some of the best studios across the UK including Rockstar North, Rare and Realtime Worlds. We’ve also got a few working with us at Ruffian Games right now.


The best of the teams also get a chance to have their 15 minutes of fame before they even start in the industry with the BAFTA ‘Ones to Watch’ award. This award is exclusively focused on the Dare to be Digital competition. The team that best represents each of the three categories mentioned earlier are put forward to the BAFTA judging panel with the winning team receiving their BAFTA up on the stage as they bask in the glory of the applause from the elite of the game development community. For guys so young and inexperienced it must be a really amazing experience.

I was lucky enough to be asked to be a design mentor in 2007 and 2008, and have once again been asked to get involved in this year’s competition along with one of our senior coders at Ruffian – Dave Hynd AKA ‘Magic’. Over the course of the next 10 weeks we’ll do our best to help solve problems, inspire creativity, and provide motivation to keep going when teams fall behind schedule and feel overwhelmed.

We want every student to enjoy their time in the competition but to be perfectly honest our goals are ultimately selfish. We want to discover and hire the brightest new talent coming through the university system right now and Dare to be Digital is one of the best showcases around for that talent. 

If you want to follow the progress of this year’s teams in the competition you can sign up at the official website.

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