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Ubisoft Gaming School 2018

Updated: May 22, 2019

Over the last five days nineteen young people aged 14-17 got to meet and work with world leading games developers to create their own video games from scratch. I sat down with CJ and Ben from Ubisoft Reflections to find out what went on, why they do it and the difference it has made being at Gosforth Civic Theatre.

CJ - “Yves Guillemot who established Ubisoft is very passionate about giving everybody the opportunity to play. He thinks play and giving people the opportunity to play who may not otherwise have the opportunity to play, is incredibly important.”

CJ spends a lot of time with the executive management team because she has an insight into what’s going on in the teams.

CJ - “I am technically a Learning and Resource Development Manager. I look after the Developers, I work with the production teams and I also do a lot of stuff with schools and universities and corporate social responsibility. All the external facing stuff usually lands on my plate. I’m all people, that’s what I do. I don’t make games. I’m the mum of the studio.”

Ben is a Senior Gameplay Programmer, he is very much the lead person behind developing the work with young people.

Ben - "When I joined we were doing workshops in STEM schools and colleges. We then collaborated with the Baltic for four years and from that we have built on our toolkit, workshops, presentations and activities and things like that. Each year it’s been getting bigger and bigger. But the goal has always been the same which is to get a group of young people who have not necessarily made a game before, make a game over the course of five days.“

Ubisoft’s over arching aim here is to design and facilitate a programme to enable more people to get into the industry. They want to show people how to make games and let them know that the games industry is a legitimate career option.

CJ - “There’s still very much the the perception in education that video games industry isn’t a legitimate career option. Places like UTC are starting to say games are a legitimate industry but it’s very much not seen that way. The way we break it down is to get as much exposure to as many people as we can. There are a lot of roles in the games industry that lend itself to people who may find other industries challenging. We want to make ourselves more visible to people who have neurodiverse issues, people who maybe think in different ways. Some people just aren’t cut out for university, the social aspect of it, the way in which it is structured it’s not a normal environment and it can be very high pressured. The next step for us is apprenticeships”

This was the fifth year that Ubisoft have hosted the UGS & this year they hosted the event at the Gosforth Civic Theatre.

Ben - “The first day of the summer school was about coming up with game ideas, genre and story and getting to know your team because it’s a collaborative effort. We want the young people to decide, it’s their week. They have an introduction to all these different skill sets, programming, design, testing, production, all these different aspects which go into making a video game. People may come in with an idea of what they want to do, say, a programmer, but they may find by day three that it’s animation that they’re all about. Thats what this weeks for. Certainly at that age I didn’t know what area of game development I wanted to get into.”

At the end of the Ubisoft Gaming School week each team’s game was showcased at a celebration event. All the art work and the themes of the games were very different, from fantasy settings with wizards and fire and projectiles to top down style maze games. One game was a turn based strategy game that was especially exciting, it was a new genre that Ben had not seen from a group of young people before.

Ben - “To come in and just dive straight into a strategy game that was unbelievable.“

CJ - “We had the best engagement this week, we’ve never had any of the groups in the past work as cohesively as they have this time. Every single group was fully engaged, fully worked together, totally collaborative.”

In the past Ubisoft have predominantly focused on the development side, the presentations and workshops, and have not really had to consider the pastoral care of the young people. Having the gaming school at Gosforth Civic Theatre has enabled Ubisoft to own the process from start to finish and because of that they feel that it’s been more inclusive. They’ve had better visibility on some of the challenges that the kids have.

CJ - “So we’ve had at least three kids with either high performing Aspergers or Autism this week, and I think in this environment, you know they come in, their parents can bring them right to the room, there’s an opportunity for us as developers to engage with the parents, so there’s been a couple of conversations that he does this or he does that this can happen. We’ve never been involved in those before, so it’s kind of helped us, I don’t know, understand the kids bit more.”

Ben - “We try to make it as inclusive as possible each year. It’s always nice to have people from assorts of backgrounds to come in and make the games, because ultimately that’s what matters, I believe that anyone can come in and do it and thats what we’re here for, we’re here to to support.“

The proximity of the venue to the studio has really made a difference. They have had five times as many Developers down over the course of the week as they normally get. These Developers are people who work on the games that these kids play and idolise such as ‘The Division’.

CJ - “We didn’t make too much of a fuss but a lot of these kids play these games and are fascinated by them and here they are talking to people who make them. There was one kid in particular who when I said, the managing director for Reflections in Lemington is coming down, his eyes nearly fell out of his head. So, am I going to have to do a pitch to him? I said, Yeah you know, it’s fine you know, it’s okay.”

On Monday evenings Gosforth Civic Theatre run Gaming Social, an activity where people can to come together and play video games. I talked to Tim, one of the facilitators who provided support for Ubisoft throughout the week. He also co-delivered an icebreaker workshop with the group that encouraged them to work together, realise each other strengths and differences and help each other while having fun.

Tim - “They played Super Mario a 2D platform game in pairs at first with one player blindfolded and the other helping them to play by giving verbal directions. They also tried it as an entire group. It was really funny to start off with, it all went wrong, everyone was shouting at once until they realised they needed a spokesperson to relay the ideas clearly to the people who were in control. It was great fun."

CJ - “This was really good for the kids. It was good to get them out of the room and do something different, hear a different set of voices, and something interactive, they really, really enjoyed that. It’s definitely something that we want to do. We haven’t done anything like that in the past.”

Ben - “The atmosphere in the room was brilliant with them all shouting at the screen, I thought it was excellent.”

Tim - “ We’ve had some really nice chats with CJ and Ben and it really felt like we got to know them a lot better and they got to know what we do a lot better too. It’s given us some clarity, confidence and belief in what we’re doing because these are people who live their lives in video games and here they are saying how unique it was what we do here with the Gaming Social, and questioning why their isn’t more stuff like this going on. This was really helpful for us.”

It’s been a great week that has been really successful for many different people in many different ways.

CJ - “There’s a lot of people, hundreds and hundreds, thousands in some games involved in a particular game, and so people can become very focused on what they’re delivering and forget the end result, which is that we’re making something fun for people to play and it’s about play. And this week kind of reminds Dev’s that that’s what it is that we’re doing. Which is very cool.”

You can find out more about UGS 2018 on Ubisoft's blog.

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