Self-employed placement experience: Computer Games Enterprise student sets up her own games studio
Lauren Ansdell-Miller, BSc (Hons) Computer Games Enterprise, is running her own games studio during her self-employed placement year. As Founder and Lead Developer of Dyak Studios, Lauren's ambition is to improve diversity and inclusion in the games industry.
Tell us about your self-employed placement (SEP)
For my placement year I made the decision to dive into entrepreneurship and start my own indie video games company! Dyak Studios aims to promote and improve diversity and inclusion in the games industry by creating diverse games with a diverse team. We are currently developing our first title for Android devices called Rise Of The Jemhaji, with the public beta releasing at the end of the SEP (fingers crossed).
Unlike most Games Tech and Enterprise students, I decided to undertake a SEP alone. I wanted a challenge and to see if I could develop a commercial game by myself – so far, it has been going well! My roles cover most development tasks such as programming, design, and production planning, as well as general business tasks such as marketing.
How is your placement related to your university degree?
On my course, I have been on the Design and Programming pathway. As a Games Enterprise student, I have also had opportunities to grow my leadership abilities. Everything that I have learned so far, I have been able to put into practice during my SEP.
Benefits of doing a SEP
The best thing about doing a SEP is that you get to be your own boss and do your own thing (within reason of course). While there are deadlines to hit such as progress reports and a presentation at the end of the year, you also get to work on what you want. The freedom you get is one of the main reasons I chose a SEP over an industrial placement.
By being your own boss, you get a lot better at managing your own time. The business will be what you make it, and that is affected by the work you put in. I have become far better at managing what I have to do and to make sure I get it done. This is mostly to do with the fact I feel very motivated to make Dyak the best it can be! It also feels brilliant to start putting the things I’ve learnt on my course into practice, to develop something that the whole world can see, and that alone drives me to make the game the best I can.
What's the best thing about your placement so far?
So far, the most enjoyable part of my SEP has been building Dyak’s team. I know I said I was doing the SEP alone, and that is true, but the business itself now has a team of around 6 people. The people I am working with are freelancers from across the world!
I built a team mainly because game art is not a strong suit of mine. Instead of taking the time to learn how to create game art, I made the decision to bring on artists to work on assets while I continue programming and designing Rise Of The Jemhaji – deploying a typical ‘Divide & Conquer’ plan. I wanted to bring people onto the team as professionally as possible, so this process has taught me a lot about hiring and writing contracts. I originally saw the application form receiving 10, possibly 20 applications, but at the end of the process I received 71!
What's the worst thing so far?
The least enjoyable task so far would be the marketing. I knew going into the SEP that marketing would be important to raise awareness of the company, however I wasn’t aware of how much actually goes into it. Internet presence is super important when trying to build a business. I've managed to make regular posts about development and the games industry in general. But it does take a while to create content that I deem good enough to post to Dyak Studios’ social media accounts – I feel as if I have to show that I have made a decent amount of progress since the last post, otherwise there is no point posting.
While marketing hasn’t been too enjoyable, I have learnt a lot about how to use social media professionally which has been very valuable in growing the reach of the studio.
Did you have any concerns about doing a SEP?
Honestly, I didn’t have many concerns before going on placement. I knew I wanted to do a SEP before I even joined the University as it was pointed out to me as an option at an Open Day. It was one of the main reasons I chose Portsmouth over other universities. By knowing it was an option at least 2 years in advance, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
At the beginning of 2nd year, I had a careers meeting with Eliana to discuss both an industrial placement and the SEP – I decided that having both options open was the best way forward. I would definitely recommend a meeting with Creative Careers to start the process of sorting out a placement as they are brilliant at answering any questions you may have. If you're concerned or unsure about whether a placement is right for you, either industrial or SEP, have a chat with them.
If you definitely know you want to do a SEP, but don’t know where to start, I would also recommend having a chat with the Student Startup team in the central Careers and Employability Service. They will be assisting you throughout your whole placement, so building a relationship early is a good idea. They’re really knowledgeable about start-ups and have a wide range of resources available to you, and they’re all lovely as well.
What skills have you developed?
A vast majority of what I’ve learnt during my studies I’ve been able to apply to my SEP, such as programming and games design techniques. The main new skill I’m developing is my project management skills, and I have been pointed in the right direction by my Academic Mentor for the year, Anna Limpens. This skillset will be super helpful during my final year group project where I will most likely be taking on the role of a Producer within a game development team made up of my fellow students. I also now have a better understanding of the games development pipeline, and this is something which will come in handy next year.
I've also been able to develop my transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, and organisation through my collaboration with freelancers. As they are based all across the world, I have been learning how to handle communication across different time zones.
Have you taken any training?
Prior to starting my SEP, I completed the RouteToStartup workshops ran by the Startup team. This series of workshops is aimed to help you better define your business idea, and are a required part of the SEP. Because I knew they were required, I decided to complete them before I even started the year to get them out of the way and focus solely on my business during the placement. I would recommend starting the workshops as early on as you can. They'll help you better define your Proposal Presentation where you present your business idea to a panel which then decides whether to accept you for the SEP scheme. (Think of it as a replacement for the interview you would have to do for an industrial placement.)
I've also attended some Entrepreneurs’ Lounge events. These are organised by Student Startup, but talks are given by local entrepreneurs and industry experts. While the advice given is very general, it can be applied to all types of business. For example, I attended a talk about crowdfunding which gave an overview of how to create a successful crowdfunding campaign and the support available, but I left with the tools and knowledge needed to create a video game Kickstarter.
What are your plans for the future?
When I graduate, I plan to get a job in either games design or production. This will allow me to get the experience in a larger studio as well as getting used to working on different projects. I plan on continuing Dyak on the side then transitioning into full-time self-employment when I feel ready to turn Dyak into a fully fledged studio. I hope that my experience in a well-known studio will give me an insight into how they run, and I can apply that knowledge to Dyak Studios and make tweaks where needed. My perfect future is to see Dyak become a pillar in diversity and inclusion promotion within the games industry. I have big plans for where I want to take the studio – I just hope I can execute them!
This career decision has always been my plan, and I’m doing a SEP to more solidify that plan rather than help me decide if it was what I want to do. Of course, I could’ve hated the experience and decided that starting my own company wasn’t right for me, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case.
Have you any advice for students thinking about doing a SEP?
Make use of the resources made available by the University. I cannot stress enough how much I have found out by being pointed in the right direction by my lecturers, Creative Careers and the Startup team. I know that career decisions can seem daunting to talk about, especially when you’re not entirely sure where you want to go, but these groups of people are the best people to ask. They’re there to help you make that decision and to help you achieve it. Ask the questions you want to ask, and if you don’t want to ask them for whatever reason, you could also discuss it with your peers – many students in the years above who have already gone through the process would be more than willing to help you out.
Any tips for students who want to run their own business for a placement year?
A SEP is hard work, and it’s not the ‘easy option’ it may originally seem like. Yes, you do get to do your own thing, but you also have to do that work and be motivated to get it done. As I mentioned earlier, your business will be what you make it, therefore if you don’t put in any work, it won’t go anywhere and the experience would be a waste. Make the most of it.
Because it is a lot of work, there are great support systems in place so don’t let what I just said deter you from doing it! Stay in contact with your Mentors so they can give their help and advice when you need it. Starting a business at University is probably your best option as you have the support you may not have once you graduate - it gives you a nice little safety net to try new things and fail without really bad consequences.
Oh, and don’t forget your marketing!