Some college internships amount to filing paperwork, fetching coffee and performing work that is only marginally related to the host company's core service or product, all in the name of earning a few college credits and the ability to claim "I have experience."
But Guild Wars house ArenaNet said its new internship program, dubbed "Arena University," aims to give participants real-world game development experience, as well as something to show for it in a commercial product.
By way of example, the company points to the Guild Wars 2 city of Lion's Arch, an area in the upcoming MMORPG that ArenaNet staff didn't have the production capacity to complete after initial prototyping.
The studio used its new intern program to fill in that need for production capacity, ramping up interns' skillsets over the course of a couple months and then assigning them to create different in-game set pieces such as vendor huts and the main centerpiece statue of the city.
"[Interns'] work can and will make it into the game, if -- or I should say when -- it meets our high quality bar," ArenaNet SVP of global business Randall Price told Gamasutra. "We dedicate a ton of time to them, which results in real accomplishments that benefit the game."
The Lion's Arch project revolved around art creation, but the studio's internship program also includes programming and design internships. Price said ArenaNet is considering expanding its program to include publishing and production skills as well.
There are currently around 25 participants in the internship program, which started in 2010 and while the plan isn't to hire them all on, standout performers could land a job at the studio.
Meaningful internships and company-run educational programs are becoming an important part of talent recruitment across the industry, especially as some companies are finding relatively dry talent pools in their locations.
Many college graduates also find they aren't ready to jump into a big game development studio right out of school. It's often not until they learn the studio's workflow when everything starts to click.
"We saw that there was a disconnect in what students were learning in the classroom and what is needed in the real world," Price said. "We designed our internship program to help provide artists with the tools and opportunity they need to be successful at ArenaNet and to make it in the game industry."
In most cases, students will be able to take all of their work on Guild Wars 2 and use it in their portfolios, said Price, adding that the program could also spread throughout other NCsoft-owned studios.
ArenaNet has also recently set up internal classes for regular employees, not only for continuing education in their respective fields but also to improve inter-departmental communication. For example, programmers may learn more about developing art assets in a class headed up by an internal art director.
These classes give employees a chance to step away from their computers for a while, but still do something productive and job-related. Soon, the studio also hopes to bring in outside experts from companies such as Pixar to teach classes as well.
Having a few eager interns around helps foster an environment that's not just about work, but also continuous learning. "We then get to educate, evaluate and build solid working relationships with the best new talent," Price said. "This [internship program] helps us immensely as we continue to expand our team. And let's not forget that we learn a ton from our interns as well. They often bring new ideas and fresh approaches to the table, which we're always open to."