Unity is on a mission to empower more learners to become real-time 3D creators. We made our online learning platform, Unity Learn, free for all in 2020 to give everyone the opportunity to access high-quality education and achieve their dream careers.
Unity Learn Pathways are intensive online courses designed to take you from complete beginner to career-ready. To demonstrate this better than we ever could, we recently sat down with Pathways graduate Robbie Coey to chat about his experience with starting his own studio and working toward releasing his first game after finishing the Junior Programmer Pathway.
Robbie Coey (he/him) is a founder and director of HoloMoon Games, an indie game studio based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Robbie, K Andrews, and Michael McArdle founded Holomoon in September 2021 to create weird and wonderful narrative experiences. They’re currently working on Guitar Zeros, a narrative deck-builder about bringing a band from humble beginnings to the world stage.
Keep reading to learn more about Robbie and the integral role Unity Learn has played in getting his career and studio off the ground.
How did it feel when you completed the Junior Programmer Pathway?
In a word, brilliant. It felt as though I finally had something that I was passionate about and could focus on. I could spend hours on various tutorials and building my own projects and it would feel as if no time had passed at all. The only other time I have that feeling is when playing games.
How long did it take you to complete the course?
It took around a month, and I completed it alongside part-time work. I advise anyone embarking on it to work little and often – you'll burn out if you try to do too much in a short time. It's easier to build the habit if you're able to work consistently over a long period, and if that means only doing half an hour every other day, that's what you do. Find a schedule that works for you and avoid burnout at all costs.
What was your career before you started learning Unity?
I had worked briefly in film and television in a range of roles on documentaries, dramas, and animations. I’d explored film and television a lot, and while there were things I enjoyed about working in that industry, I always felt a little out of place.
What career challenges did you face?
I felt as though I lacked hard skills. I was good at communicating and being a team player, but whether it was due to lack of confidence or something else, I always felt uncomfortable putting myself forward to do more technical work.
What made you want to switch careers?
The COVID-19 pandemic had dried up all opportunities in the industry I worked in previously. It was a move almost out of desperation. To even my older siblings, games were an idle pastime at most. Unity Pathways and the support from Unity really showed me how much of an opportunity there was in the games industry. I have met people and done things that I would never have dreamed of prior, as well as found a huge passion that continues to drive me to push myself further.
“Unity Pathways and the support from Unity really showed me how much of an opportunity there was in the games industry.”
Has the career change had an impact on your salary?
It's a lot more stable, for one. I came from a work-for-hire industry, and immediately before learning Unity I was unemployed due to the pandemic. Having mostly done short contract work in the past, learning Unity has allowed me a lot more financial freedom and opportunities to increase my salary.
“Learning Unity has allowed me a lot more financial freedom and opportunities to increase my salary.”
Can you tell us about your new career?
I’m now a director in my own studio. I was very lucky to receive funding from Northern Ireland Screen after completing my Unity Pathways course. With that initial investment I, along with two others, were able to start our own studio, HoloMoon Games. We want to make games that reflect our culture and make people laugh. We're currently working towards our first official release, Guitar Zeros, which will hopefully be on Steam sometime next year. And, I’ve recently become a BAFTA Connect member, which I never thought I could achieve. I keep wondering when they're going to realize and kick me out.
“We're currently working towards our first official release.”
Can you tell us how you secured funding for your project?
We applied for an incubator scheme with Northern Ireland Screen called MiniGame, which involved written and in-person pitching. My advice for anyone looking to do the same would be to get comfortable talking about your game idea in front of others. One thing that helps is to ask three questions: Can I make this? Should I make this? And, do I want to make this? If I answer yes to all three, then I know I can comfortably pitch that idea. In general, I'd recommend keeping an eye out for funding opportunities, especially those provided by local organizations in your area. Without the support from Northern Ireland Screen, I wouldn't be in the position I am now.
Why do you think learning real-time 3D and Unity is so important?
For me, it unlocked so many ways in which I could express myself, and also allowed me to understand the digital world we live in. After I started learning Unity, I began to see it and real-time 3D technologies everywhere, from film and TV to the automotive industry. Real-time 3D is really becoming ubiquitous, and understanding how it works means you won't get left behind.
“After I started learning Unity, I began to see it and real-time 3D technologies everywhere.”
Has learning Unity had an impact on your life and career?
It has completely changed the trajectory of my life and career, given me skills I never thought I had, and ignited a passion for games and programming that I didn't know was there. It made it possible for me to access a new industry which, to even my parents’ generation, seemed esoteric and mysterious. My life and career are infinitely more interesting since I completed the Unity Pathway.
“My life and career are infinitely more interesting since I completed the Unity Pathway.”
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to continue running my own company, improve my craft, make interesting games that I can be proud of, and really try to push the storytelling of the medium forward. Games are unique in the way that they tell stories, and I feel there is still a lot to learn about what kind of experiences they are able to create.
“Games are unique in the way that they tell stories, and I feel there is still a lot to learn about what kind of experiences they are able to create.”
What advice would you give to anyone learning Unity?
Rome wasn't built in a day. You won't learn everything about Unity overnight, but you also don't need to learn everything about Unity to get creative. In fact, I find setting yourself limitations can oftentimes make you more creative. You will get the knowledge you want with hard work and dedication, and there's no point rushing it. Also, network – find peers that are at your level and find others that are where you want to be in the future. There's a great community of people out there and they all want to lift each other up.
You mentioned finding your peers. How did you go about doing this? Do you have any advice for anyone trying to find a community?
The best source for me to find other game developers was through the Northern Ireland Game Developer Network. I would keep an eye out for local developer networks or more specific communities related to what you would like to do. Discord is a great meeting point for many of these groups, including Unity's own Discord server. Partaking in game jams is also a great way of meeting people. Itch.io has a terrific list of upcoming jams that suit all sorts of game developers, most of which will have some kind of forum to meet others who are participating.
With Pathways, you can build all of the skills you need to master Unity and join the real-time 3D industry, just like Robbie. These free online courses cover everything from downloading and installing the Unity Editor to coding, VR development, lighting and shading, and more.
Junior Programmer is designed for anyone interested in learning to code or obtaining an entry-level Unity role. In this free, fully virtual, self-guided course, you will learn about fundamental programming concepts such as variables, functions, and basic logic through two practical projects. You’ll also join a community of Unity learners enrolled in your Pathway where you can share your progress, get help, and interact with Unity's learning team.
Follow HoloMoon Games’ progress on Twitter and don’t forget to wishlist Guitar Zeros on Steam. Did learning Unity help you achieve your dream career? If you’d be interested in sharing your story, please complete the following form for the chance to be featured: Share your Unity journey.