If Larian Studios is the founding father of the #BelgianGamesIndustry, then Digital Arts and Entertainment surely are the watchful godparents that nurtured the child while daddy was out working. Program initiator Rik “Master Chief” Leenknegt and his band of wise magisters have been teaching the magic of game development for close to 15 years now, cementing themselves as a vital pillar for the continuing growth of our local game development ecosystem.
Over the years the program transformed from an ambitious experiment into a stronghold for HOWEST college. Today, the award-winning curriculum attracts talent from all over the globe. The international vibes flowing through the campus The Level is one of Leenknegt’s proudest achievements. Students who succesfully complete the program should be able to find an entry-level job in a big game studio. Currently, over 600 alumni are working at world renowned game studios like Rockstar, Massive Entertainment, DICE or Rocksteady Games. They might even pop up in MCV/Develop’s 30 under 30, like alumna Sofie Debloudts this week.
The international reputation of the program and its students are regularly cemented with collective and individual wins and nominations at prestigious educational awards like The Rookies (first place Game Design and Development in 2017 and 2018) and Grads in Games. The latter doesn’t just look at the quality of the educational program, but measures how well graduates are prepared to start working in the game sector. Just like in 2018 (when they won), DAE is nominated for the grand prize this year.
Having students perform well internationally is nice, but it would be even better if their talent was able to thrive closer to home. This requires more local game studios who can compete at the very highest level. Alumni that set up their own studios to create the video games of their dreams is a good first step, but they need help to scale.
With DAE Studios, the HOWEST DAE program has evolved beyond mere academic education. Under management of Michiel Houwen, the game technology accelerator leverages existing DAE stakeholders and partners in order to incubate and accelerate startups, often consisting of DAE alumni. DAE Studios is currently running a 2 games a month incubator program, where participants don’t have to wait several years to experience a complete production cycle. And – often the steepest challenge – find the resources to last that long.
It’s all part of the plan to turn Kortrijk into one of the leading European game development hubs. Just last week, both Leenknegt and Houwen elaborated on how they aim to do this with a talk at BIG Festival in Brazil. What started as the dream of one man, has arguably become one of most important cornerstones of our #BelgianGamesIndustry, and we can’t wait to see what HOWEST DAE is able to achieve in the next 10 years.