I recently finished up the postmortem for Julia's Magnificent Mishap, an independently and remotely run student project Team Mishap completed last year. One of the most common questions that comes up when I discuss this project is "How do you get students motivated to work outside of classes?" I figured it wouldn't hurt to share something I had posted to our team forums, under the subject line "Why are we doing this?"
As you may recall, I worked on a student IGF project last year at the Art Institute. Out of the entire three years I worked on my degree, that time I spent working with a student-ruled team was hands down the most valuable experience I ever had. I learned more than any class could have taught me. We did what many people talk or write about doing, but never actually complete: we made a game.
In all, I know we're all very busy. I know we're not getting paid and we're not getting college credit, but there are much bigger benefits that aren't readily apparent. Besides the exposure of having your name out there in the credits of a game in a major competition, besides having a wonderful new portfolio piece that shows your ability to work on a team, and besides having a new project bullet point on your resume, you'll have invaluable experience. We're working the production cycle, not just simulating it. We're going to encounter challenges that force us to grow. We're going to learn our trade hands on.
Additionally, employers are going to be looking for people who are truly passionate about making games. All the elaborate plans in the world are nothing compared to real, playable results. So you want to make games? Get with it and make one. Prove you're serious about developing games, independently, without anyone forcing you to do it, and you'll earn a lot of respect for being motivated and dedicated to your craft.
I'll be completely blunt: making a fun game is a lot of hard work. But this is just a preview of what you're going to see in the industry. And if you can keep your eye on the prize(s), really stick with it and pour your heart into your work, you'll realize when we're done that you've grown tremendously from the real-world challenges we've faced.