Saturday, August 09, 2008

notes from the Education SIG at the Game Developer Conference 2008

Trip Report: Game Developer Conference 2008 Kim Gregson

I attended the Education SIG sessions during the first two days of the conference. We discussed the revised curriculum framework, which is online at There were sessions on class projects that worked, keynotes by Ernest Adams and Ian Bogost, and postmortem presentations by student finalists in the Independent Game Festival.

During the final three days, there were panels in seven tracks from which to choose. I focused on panels in the Business & Management track and the Game Design track. I spent some time in the Expo Hall looking for tools that might fit into the classes I'm proposing. I visited the Career Expo where game studios had booths to discuss job openings and internship programs. I picked up information from both of these halls. Out of my notes and from the literature picked up in the expo halls I pulled together information about books that may be useful as text books, software tools to investigate, and companies who might be good to contact in the future for guest speakers or to be on our advisory board.

Observations from the Education SIG meetings

Below are some of the observations and project ideas that I pulled from my notes that I think are most relevant as we put together the new major and start to offer a few of the classes.

* undergraduate program have to be flexible – show lots of places to apply game skills (because not everyone is getting jobs in the field and not everyone stays in the industry
* when recruiting students – look for students with a broader view of what's a game and where they want to go in the industry, look for self starters, can't just be people who want to play videogames
* focus on creating portfolios, something to show for their 4 years of work, to show their teamwork experience, with finished games, have to have mixed team experience (like interdisciplinary classes with mix of majors
* great programs need advisory boards with industry experience to bounce ideas off of, to get advice, to assess program
* good to have a committed champions for game program to keep it going
* projects and classes have to be a reality check – you may be smart but if you can't deliver on time and work on a team & if they can't accept that someone else often decides the game topic (once employed you often have no control or choice) – then game industry isn't for them
* can start team work from the beginning by assigning intro to games students to be the testers for games made by other classes – testers get to see variety of designs and to practice quality assurance skills, good to have classes in multiple departments the first year to learn to work with different kinds of people, start team building
* take some of all the skills in the first 2 years to see what they like, don't like so they can specialize at the end – good to see that you will not be and don't need to be good at everything – that's why you have a team
* be aware of festivals that take student entries – they're good way to get the full production experience, the experience of “shipping the product”, get name out in front of the industry
* get ideas for games from lots of places (read widely, have interests outside of games, read magazines and books and tv shows outside your normal genres to get new ideas
* students need to play some of the really old games that are still around – Go, Mancala, Backgammon – why are they still fun to play? consider the fact that ancient music and literature has gone out of style
* need libraries of games and hardware to give access to games (platforms, genres) that students don't have already – wider experience, experience with older games, experience with different interfaces
* internships are important, good way to network – game designers not getting hired right out of undergraduate programs – there are starter jobs, need internships, need portfolio
* I noticed that there are more and more programs doing game related programs. Some are under-supported by the college, offering only one or two classes. Some are heavy on computer programming and software engineering. I didn't see any other programs that combined the creative areas that we can offer. here at IC I also heard that many schools were not open to cross-department programs which made it difficult for students to get a broad range of classes.

There was a panel for academics and people in the industry thinking about changing careers to be teachers. Below are several observations from that panel.

* Most industry people don't have terminal degrees – don't have time to get one while they're working in industry and probably won't have time to get one once they start teaching either. Most have never taught formally before either. Some positions (such as leads/managers) have mentored, taught skills to individuals. This means they are going to need more handholding in their first years. This is not unlike many freshly minted Ph.D holders though; they often have little experience teaching their own class. However, they have (more and more recent) experience with how college classes are set up. Some industry people expressed interest in teaching one or two classes a year to find out about teaching and to fit into their schedules.
* Schools need to convey the quality of life in academia – set some of your own hours, teach stuff you like, research what you like, still lots of hours but a little more control, point out they have a chance to change student attitudes about the industry and game design, there's a chance to do experimental design, design without the marketing pressure. They have to have something to promote themselves because the pay will almost always be less.
* Schools need to convey the realities of teaching, research expectations, service requirements, fundraising, the time it takes to prep new classes
* Industry people interested in keeping ties with industry
* Industry people don't read the same journals we do in academia so need to think of new ways to promote job openings (like at the GDC conferences and SXSW)
* GA Tech and USC have phd programs in game design (places to look for teachers with terminal degrees)

Observations from the general sessions that seem particularly relevant as we start up.

* create small games as way to test ideas instead of going for the big AAA game right out of the gate
* games that let you be creative are always huge success – cards, dice – they let people play around with the rules and make their own variations – even games like hide and go seek have different versions in different countries, player mods are important because it keeps players engaged and lets them be creative
* check out games Adventure Quest and Runescape – free mmos, there's an ad quest character in the game and if you do the quest they give you they'll give you in game money to spend – a way to monetize your game
* need to figure out the interdisciplinary team stuff and project management
* game designers not getting hired right out of undergrad – need internships, networking, other jobs in the industry before working up to designer
* big conference theme – democratization of content creation and distribution – anyone can make a game (tools where you don't have to program) and lots of places to put games and share them with friends), Raph Koster has the Metaplace product, EA has TheSimsCarnival, Sharendipity has their web & Facebook product – play, share, some share ad revenues with game makers
* There are a lot of game specific legal issues involved in making games – IP licensing, non-disclosures when you demo your game, employment contracts, and so on. There are a few lawyers who specialize in the game industry; some have experience in the industry as producers. They would make good speakers fespecially or the industry class and the senior workshop.
* Marc LeBlanc – does a great game tuning workshop
* There were well-attended 2 day sessions on casual games and mobile games and serious games – lots of different kinds of games being made, for different platforms and for different audiences. We need to expose students to that variety to give them broader sense of the kinds of companies they might want to work for

Possible Tools for Class

Below are descriptions of just a few of the tools I identified. These tools are free and can be downloaded immediately for evaluation. I have a list of other tools that involve some kind of charge to investigate for future implementation.

* GameBrix – tool for bulding games, sharing games, can play other peoples games, tools online – it's web based, has popular game themes that you can modify and work with, has an animator tool –
* Multiverse – an MMOG platform – to rapidly prototype VW, retain full IP rights, can launch the game even without a publisher (they have a Multiverse Network), works with standard 3d tools like 3D Studio Max and Maya, assign behaviors to stuff in the world, prototype with Python and JavaScript, on the network there are lots of different revenue possibilities – free, flat fee, subscription, ads, microtransactions, pay nothing upfront, can download the whole SKD and assets, put on own servers, when you charge users Multiverse gets a cut,
* GameSpy also has ModCenter ( for users and teams to create and manage game development projects – has lots of tools built in – bug tracking, task management, wiki and private forums, source code repository
* EA's game making software on the web – Sims Carnival, have to register, in private beta at the end of february,
* Torgue – has engine and game builder, works on PC and Mac, from http://GarageGames, strong community support, lots of sample games
* sharendipity – a game builder on the web, can send games into facebook, can make games in facebook, one of the company founders is from Ithaca,
* Adrift software for writing interactive fiction –
* values at play cards – way to make games with consciously chosen and embedded values,
* Jim Charney – private lawyer specializing in videogame law, used to be a producer at Activision, now in Santa Monica (might be a good guest speaker over the tv hookup), ran the contract round table, writes an igda column –
* IGDA has a contract walk thru on the site at for members only with explanations written by different lawyers, and collection of game-related syllabi at

Other Interesting Conferences (places to display games, to recruit faculty, to expose new faculty to the game industry, to present research to other academics)

* ScreenBurn – part of SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin in March, 4 days of panels and discussions and trade show with games being exhibited and game tournaments) –
* Living Game Worlds, it's the 4th one, at GA Tech in Atlanta, 12/1-2/2008, looking at networked play this year,
* Meaningful Play 2008 – 10/9-11/2008 at MSU in MI, serious games,
* Austin GDC – 9/15-17/08– supposedly has proceedings from 2007 conference, includes the Game Career Seminar,
* GDC 2009 3/23-27/09 (this year there were 20,000 people at the conference, a press release said GDC will be invite only in 2009 – not sure what that means yet – E3 did that last year and it meant it was not open to the public at all)

I will use much of the information learned in my classes. For instance, there were several panels on creativity and overcoming designers block. They suggested books and techniques for coming up with new and better game ideas that I will use in the Introduction to Games & Society class I am scheduled to teach in the fall. There were two panels on measurements being done by the game industry to improve games. Some can be done by students in the early classes with little additional resources needed. One involves timing events that happen in the first minutes of game play. The thinking is that a game must grab a player's interest from the outset or they will move to a new game. This is particularly true in online game. There were several panels on monetization that I went to. Topics from those panels will be appropriate for the game industry course as well as, at an introductory level, in the Intro to Games and Society Course.

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