July 22, 2013

MassDiGI: Paving the Way for Game Development Students

When you are a student in Massachusetts, the opportunities for learning beyond the classroom are pretty abundant. You just need to have a clear sense of what interests you and to know where to look! For students specifically interested in the business of games, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) lays the foundation for students to succeed through their Summer Innovation Program. The program is not only important to students, but local game executives and developers who mentor these students are given the opportunity to ‘mold’ the next talented group of graduates according to the current needs of the industry.

Taking a step back, MassDiGI was conceptualized in 2010 and established in 2011 and is now based at Becker College in Worcester. The organization is the result of creative collaboration among academia, state government and industry, aimed at fostering the growth of the innovation economy in Massachusetts. The Summer Innovation Program is just one piece of what MassDiGI does. Other initiatives include a Reverse Sabbatical Program, Virtual Production Lab, Education Working Group and a Data Gathering/Benchmarking Working Group. MassDiGI also manages a blog on containing crowd-sourced content from those within the games and interactive entertainment industry.

With the Summer Innovation Program wrapping up in early August, I sat down with Executive Director, Tim Loew, and Managing Director, Monty Sharma to learn a bit more about the program:

1)      What is unique about the MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program and how does it help to foster the games ecosystem in Massachusetts?

The Summer Innovation Program (SIP) is the only program that sets student teams up to be independent developers.  They learn to apply the skills they are learning in a real team environment using industry standard tools and methods.  They are able to make their own discoveries and mistakes with the advice from a broad group of mentors. 

The students who go through this program have a much greater sense of what it takes to work in a real job. They are not in a protected internship, rather they are running their own project.  This results in students who have a better sense of self and are better prepared to apply their skills in the marketplace.

2)      Tell us about the Summer Innovation Program participants? What schools are they from? How can someone get involved next year?

This year, out of 84 applications from undergraduate and graduate students representing 24 different colleges and universities, we selected 21 students from Becker College, WPI, Northeastern, Berklee College of Music, Hampshire College, RISD, Champlain College, Union College and RPI. 

SIP students receive free housing and a stipend for the duration of the full-time program which typically runs from late May through early August.

The competitive application process opens up in February, so follow @Mass_DiGI on Twitter or check the website for details.

3)      What have the students been working on this year and what is the status of their games?

We have five fantastic projects under development this summer.

The first game is Wobbles. It’s a really fun game where you move the Wobbles through time by giving them a safe path.  This is going to be ready for launch in the App Store in early August.

The second game is Zeebi Zoo. This serious game, which is targeted at middle schoolers, gives the player responsibility for understanding a new creature that has been discovered, Zeebis.  As the player discovers the secrets of the Zeebis they are also learning the scientific method.  This is a prototype for a group of scientists and educators and will be tested in August.

The third game is a prototype being created under the mentorship of PopCannibal, a well-known local indie game developer.  The team is creating a building simulator where a player has to manage a group of faulty robots to run their construction yard.

The fourth game is for a team of researchers studying early onset Alzheimer's. The researchers will use the games to see if they can delay symptom progression.

Finally, for our fifth game, we have a neat twist on Tic-Tac-Toe. We all learned to beat it when we were 5 but the team is building a more complex and challenging variant of the game.

We’re hosting an Open House on August 8th, so anyone in the area is welcome to drop by and check out all the games. Information about the Open House can be found on

4)  When does the program end and what happens to the games after the program is complete?

The games are returned to the sponsoring groups. Wobbles is owned by the students that have built it but the other games belong to their sponsors.  Sponsors can continue development with students or test new ideas.

5)      What else does MassDiGI have planned for 2013, outside of the Summer Innovation Program?

We are working on a number of projects including our annual survey of the industry, expansion of our entrepreneurship support and mentoring activities as well as increased efforts around academic cooperation. In addition, we are also exploring the idea of developing a publishing model for student created games.

6)      Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about SIP, MassDiGI?

As the largest program of its kind in the New England, SIP offers students an amazing opportunity. We encourage any student interested in any aspect of game development to consider applying. At MassDiGI, we also offer many other programs and activities for students, such as our annual Game Challenge pitch contest, so keep an eye on our Twitter feed for announcements!

Elicia Basoli is a communications and PR consultant serving the video game industry. Born-and-raised in Massachusetts, she is particularly passionate about the New England games community working for a number of local developers and contributing to the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Games Circle, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute and the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Follow Elicia at @EliciaBuzz or learn more at