From high school student to iOS dev: A look inside the MakeGamesWithUs summer internship

By Michael Carney , written on August 16, 2013

From The News Desk

MakeGamesWithUs isn’t your average mobile game publisher. Rather than hiring a bunch of engineers to churn out new titles, or even partnering with third-party development firms to distribute and promote their content, the company has created an open, self-serve publishing platform that anyone can use.

What’s even more compelling, however, is that the seven person startup that graduated from Y Combinator’s Winter 2012 class spends the bulk of its time teaching high school and college students to develop games – for free.

Today marks the end of MakeGamesWithUs’ summer internship program. This year, the company hosted more than 75 high school students from around the nation – up from 30 the year prior – at its Palo Alto hacker house. The two-month-long summer camp alternative began on June 17th and has resulted in 65 near-complete iOS games built by teams of one or two.

More importantly, it introduced several dozen of our country’s brightest minds to the magic of Silicon valley. Participants attended talks from Y Combinator partner Sam Altman and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, among others, while surely building many lifelong relationships with one another throughout the program. It’s a good bet that many of these young students will be back in the Valley one day and will be better prepared than most to make their own impact on the startup ecosystem.

Tomorrow’s Demo Day, a first for MakeGamesWithUs, will be more of a celebration and a show-and-tell event, than the traditional accelerator equivalent which is all about raising capital. There will be plenty of investors present, as well as executives from established game developers large and small. But given that the presenters are high school students, and the games being demoed are often the first they’ve ever created, it’s likely the interns will be networking for future jobs and investment rounds, rather than anything more immediate.

“The app is the new resume,” says MakeGamesWithUs co-founder Ashu Desai. “Spending their summer building and shipping a game is a more valuable credential than their GPA.”

This year’s students were more driven and more passionate that last year’s inaugural class, according to Desai. Part of this was due to more effective recruiting, and part was due to the fact that the company had participants prepare ahead of arriving by reviewing tutorials from home. They also instituted a rule that each participant must finish and publish at least one game to get credit for completing the MakeGamesWithUs internship.

“It really shifted their mindset,” Desai says.

Two-year-old MakeGamesWithUs offers its students and those independent developers who publish their games through its a variety of custom frameworks and analytics tools, as well tutorials and forums. Participants also get access to design services and assistance in getting their apps listed in the iOS App Store. The company has also begun working with fellow Y Combinator alum Apportable to simplify porting its games over to Android, with two games published on both platforms to date.

When games are published through MakeGamesWithUs, the developer retains ownership of their code, but the company gets a share of all future revenue generated. This number starts at 100 percent, until the costs of hiring the artists are covered, and then falls to 30 percent.

I first encountered MakeGamesWithUs when 14-year-old developer Jonah Rubin became a Hacker News star for after publishing his maiden title, Cheese Miners, to the iOS App store following an internship with the company last summer. The company re-emerged in January when Ashu and his co-founder Jeremy Rossmann announced a free iPhone game development course and competition during MIT’s independent activities period.

There are downsides to hosting the internship, Desai admits. Progress on the MakeGamesWithUs platform slowed by about 50 percent during the two months. But it’s a tradeoff he’s willing to make, given the benefits.

“We feel like the best way to find the best games is crowdsourcing,” Desai says. “Believe it or not, two of our best developers this summer were 13-year-olds, and we expect them to continue publishing with us.”

Not many people apply the same crowdsourcing strategy as MakeGamesWithUs. But it fits with the company’s goal of rapidly testing development theories and reaching catalog scale quickly. The internship and university course offerings are part altruism and part strategy, Desai admits. MakeGamesWithUs’ goal at present is to grow the catalog of games published on its platform.

“Our primary goal is to publish a lot of games and to to collect as much data as possible on what works and what doesn’t,” the co-founder says. “We also want to build mindshare in developer community. We want people to know that, if you want to build iOS games, we’re the place to do it.”

[Image via Moonrise Kingdom]