Student game designers challenged to 48-hour Appathon

In less than two weeks, Canadian game developer XMG Studio and its partners are challenging Canadian college and university students to the “Great Canadian Appathon“, a 48-hour competition to design and create a mobile game with a chance to win up to $25,000.

According to a Monday announcement, XMG Studio and its partners the National Post, TELUS, and KPMG, are challenging budding game developers to build a game from the ground up from March 11 at 5pm to March 13 at 5pm.

For their efforts, TELUS is awarding a grand prize worth $25,000, a second prize of$10,000 and 10 $1,000 cash prizes in a variety of game categories. Winners will also be considered for two job postings at XMG Studio’s Toronto offices: one for a game programmer and one for a game artist.

Participants will also be vying for recognition. National Post publisher Douglas Kelly said that his paper will have reporters covering the event around the clock across all its platforms.

In less than two weeks, the Appathon is expected to gather the top programming students from across the nation in teams of up to four people at various university and college campuses across the country, where food and drinks “suitable for all-night coding” will be made available, but students from any school can participate, even if they’re doing their Appathon alone from their dorm room.

Adding the 48-hour time limit to the competition, it must be noted, adds a game-like quality to the competition. Gamers, and especially game designers, will recognize time limits as a crucial aspect of video games — even garnering its own mini-genre.

The Appathon has its roots in hackathons, “game jams”, and other grassroots events known to encourage creativity and innovation. And the idea of imposing a time limit on game development to through stiff competition and a ticking clock.

“48 hours is definitely a challenge in terms of delivering a finished product, but where we think it really is helpful is that everyone is on the same playing field,” XMG Studio marketing vice president Patti Mikula said. “Everyone is looking to distill their idea down to the core fun of the game… it really forces people to make it uncomplicated and not get bogged down by complex techniques because it’s really about the core basics of the game, and not about how many special effects you can throw into it.”

XMG Studio founder and CEO Ray Sharma said that cutting the development time to mere hours poses huge challenges. “With game development cycles often spanning months or even years, the biggest challenge facing participants will be tight time constraints,” Sharma said. “Honing in on what makes a game fun and addictive is the key to success in this competition.”

GCA is obviously not the first competition to target budding programmers in the growing Canadian videogame landscape. The Vortex Conference and Competition is entering its sixth year, yet again providing Canadian game designers and developers the chance to have their concepts seen by international industry professionals, financiers and venture capitalists, in an event that has been compared to Dragon’s Den, but kinder and gentler. Registration for the Vortex competition ended in January, and the finals are scheduled for March 30, 2011.

At the University of Toronto, the Game Design & Development Club has held an annual competition called Game-Making Deathmatch since 2004, in which participants have three weeks to produce a working game demo.

Indeed, events such as the Appathon help promote mobile apps as more than a passing curiosity. With slogans such as “There’s an app for that” entering the popular consciousness, and the increasingly important role of mobile technologies for businesses, mobile applications will have an enormous impact on the economy.

Mikula said she has seen mobile apps emerge into the mainstream over the past few years. “I think three years ago, apps were novelties, but then as we’ve seen more and more people with their mobile devices, we’ve seen gaming on a mobile device becoming more and more commonplace. “In fact, for many people, their iPhone or their Android phone, it’s their primary gaming device.”

Gaming firms, Mikula said, are looking to competitions like the GCA to seek out new talent to attract this growing segment of gamers.

“One of the things we’re going to be hot on the trail for is looking for new hires, and this gives us a great opportunity to see some of the great talent that is coming up out of the colleges and universities, whether it’s artists or game developers, whether it’s really strong code or awesome game design; those are things that we will get out of this event as well.”