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Virtual success

Work term allows students to start virtual reality game design business

Student Life

The Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) is a new centre that offers students, faculty, and staff an introduction to the early stages of entrepreneurship.

The centre works to help students create their own jobs as entrepreneurs during their studies or following graduation; its goal is to grow the entrepreneur community on campus and in the province while helping entrepreneurs along their journeys — from interest to an idea to taking action.

The MCE offers mentorship, funding, educational opportunities, networking events, entrepreneurial work terms and a supportive community of entrepreneurs.

Two students who have taken advantage of the entrepreneurial work term are having great success with their first joint business venture. Elyse Summers, project support coordinator for MCE, sat down with fifth-year mechanical engineering students Peter Dawe and Viktor Jonsson of New Island Studios to talk about their game development company focused on virtual reality.

From left are Peter Dawe and Viktor Jonsson.
From left are Peter Dawe and Viktor Jonsson.

ES: What is the current project you are working on?

VJ: We are working our first game that we recently submitted to the Oculus Store, an app store for games for the virtual reality headset. Our first game is created for the Samsung Gear VR (virtual reality) headset. It is an escape the room game with a bomb that is counting down and you have to solve puzzles to defuse the bomb before the timer runs out.

Players must escape the virtual reality "room."
Players must escape the virtual reality “room” in the Escape! VR game.
Photo: Submitted

ES: How did you get started?

PD: We both love video games. Last Christmas, I got a Gear VR and we realized how cool everything with virtual reality is. We looked at what kind of games were available for VR and realized how few there were, so we figured it was the perfect time for us to try creating something of our own. We had never actually made a video game before and were pretty inexperienced, so we have been learning as we go. We first spoke with Daan Goossens and Florian Villaume from the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship and Dr. Greg Naterer, dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, in a roundtable discussion. After that, we expanded our idea and figured out exactly what we wanted to create. By the end of the semester, we had a concept ready to build on and decided to pursue it full time during a work term.

ES: What has been your greatest challenge?

VJ: Our biggest challenge so far has been our inexperience. Thankfully, there are a lot of free software programs available to use. It was a really steep learning curve because we had never used this software before, but there is a big online community with thousands of tutorials available. If you are dedicated, you can learn it.

ES: What has been your greatest success?

PD: Recently, Viktor and I spent a week of 12- to 16-hour days putting the final touches on the game. I think that was our greatest success, mostly because I am just really proud of what we accomplished.

Mr. Dawe and Mr. Jonsson's virtual reality creation.
Mr. Dawe and Mr. Jonsson’s virtual reality creation.
Photo: Submitted

ES: What support have you received?

VJ: MCE has been a great help, especially with the business side. We can handle the engineering side, like the design, but we aren’t experienced in the business department. We also went to Escape Quest in downtown St. John’s and we talked to them about designing the puzzles and the room itself. They were extremely useful for us. Also, our friend Andrew Murphy designed our logo and branding.

PD: We can’t forget Ed Martin at Clockwork Fox who was our mentor. He helped us a lot by talking to us and bouncing ideas around about game design. We also had people at Clockwork Fox do game testing for us and give us feedback. That was really valuable.

ES: What goals do you have for your company’s future?

VJ: I think both of us kind of want this to be sustainable after we graduate, to see where it takes us. We are enjoying this a lot and if we can make this our career, we are going for it!

ES: Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?

PD: Look for profitable opportunities and try to capitalize on them. That is 100 per cent what we did. We wouldn’t have a chance making a game for Android or iPhone because there are just millions of apps already out there. Also, don’t be afraid to share your ideas because other people can help you build your ideas and make them great. Your ideas are worthless if you don’t act on them.

VJ: Just be open to criticism about your idea. Another good thing is to not let anyone tell you your idea won’t work. There are a lot of naysayers out there.

Since this interview took place, Mr. Jonsson and Mr. Dawe’s game, Escape!VR, was approved and is now available in the Oculus game store. The game was rated in the top 50 selling apps in the Oculus store over the Christmas holidays.

For more information about getting your business idea started, please visit the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship to book a meeting.

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