Tag Archives: video game development

Opinion: Education – The Importance Of Teams

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, game development grad student Heather Decker-Davis argues that educators and students need to look for more opportunities for team development projects.]

As you may be aware, there are numerous education programs out there for game development. What bothers me about many of these programs is the scarcity, or sometimes even lack of, group projects.

The game industry is currently experiencing a wonderful renaissance in which it is once again possible for solo developers to forge successful careers creating indie and mobile titles, but a lot of students don’t necessarily sign up for game development programs with the dream of working alone.

Therefore, if you’re an aspiring student who dreams of working on teams large or small, you owe it to yourself to be sure you’re getting appropriate learning experiences that exercise your social skills, including cooperation and compromise.

Likewise, if you’re an educator responsible for curriculum, you owe it to your students to provide as many real-world development situations as possible.

Dear Students,

If you find yourself in a great program that simply doesn’t offer you as many teamwork opportunities as you see fit, there is still hope for expanding your horizons. You may need to work with other students outside of classes. I assure you this is not a preposterous suggestion.

Many prominent game developers have side projects, and in fact, some studios even actively encourage side or pet projects. It makes perfect sense! Each project you undertake is an opportunity to learn new insights you can apply to future projects. This is invaluable experience you won’t gain from simply learning software programs and reading about general development processes.

Starting your own group project can be challenging, but it’s also highly rewarding if you stick with it. The first step is not to be shy. Reach out to your fellow classmates, check with relevant groups or clubs, ask your faculty if they know of other students interested in collaborating, and hit your school’s media outlets (newsletters, bulletin boards, social media, etc.) with ads seeking teammates.

It may take some time, but it’s totally possible to build a team. It often helps if you set goals for your project, such as entering Independent Games Festival or showcasing your game at a local event. These types of goals also include hard deadlines, ensuring your project has a definite ship date. Learning to cope with project scale and task scheduling in a group setting are important hands-on skills you are unlikely to find in your regular classes!

Dear Educators,

I realize there are a variety of reasons team projects aren’t frequently offered in your programs. In fact, many game development programs are fairly new at this point in time, meaning a lot of curriculum is still being pioneered and polished. Let’s push the envelope.

One fairly straightforward way we can improve our offerings to students is by providing more opportunities for teamwork. This presents new challenges in planning and grading, but ultimately means we’re training students more relevant real-world skills!

It’s not enough to simply teach students to use 3D modeling software and 3D game engines. We need to simulate the workflow involved in collaboration. Optimally, basic classes should be offered to give students a good grounding in a particular software set, followed by group project classes in which the students are now tasked with applying their software knowledge to a team production effort (Example: 3DS Max and UDK classes lead up to team-based level design classes).

In addition to cultivating crucial social skills needed for effective work on a team, students would also have the opportunity to create larger, more polished projects than they could alone, meaning better portfolio pieces in the long run.

Overall, I think grading is one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to offering team projects. In many groups, there tends to be a predictable mix of students who work their hardest and students who just skim by. My first suggestion is to stick to individual grades. This forces each student to be accountable for their own efforts, rather than falling back on a blanket grade.

Additionally, upon completion, have students write a brief summary of their duties on the project and what they learned. Comparing team member accounts, as well as your own observations during class time, can be helpful in gauging specific participation.

In closing, both students and educators should be interested in academic project teams. From the student perspective, you gain social and workflow training that is absolutely critical in a collaborative field. You’ll start seeing common pitfalls and learn to overcome them.

From an educator’s standpoint, you’re training more qualified students for the field, which reflects positively on your own teaching ability and your program at large. From either viewpoint, the benefits are clear. I hope to see more collaborative student projects!

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

State’s video game industry gets boost

Institute hopes $500,000 grant helps create jobs

An institute founded to advance the state’s video game industry has received a $500,000 federal grant to help jump-start companies and train workers.

The five-year grant was awarded to the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, which was established this spring at Becker College in Worcester to bolster the state’s $2 billion-a-year industry.

The grant is significant for the institute, which was founded with $200,000 from Becker and the state-run Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, said the federal funds will help cement the institute’s role as an industry advocate as the state’s video game sector grows.

“What we want to make sure, when the next wave builds, that people see that there’s an infrastructure already in place in Worcester,’’ McGovern said. “We want this to be the video gaming corridor of not only the Northeast, but the country.’’

Becker College offers an academic program in digital game development that was ranked among the top 10 in the nation by Princeton Review Inc., a test prep and online learning company. Tim Loew, executive director of the institute, said in the first year, the federal grant will be used for marketing, workforce, and business development, and to launch a series of working groups to aid entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow video game companies.

The grant will feed the state’s video game industry with new talent and ideas, thus creating jobs, according to Loew. “This industry is totally driven by talent,’’ he said. “By building a better talent pipeline, we can put Massachusetts in an incredibly advantageous position.’’

Massachusetts game companies employed 1,295 people in 2009, the most recent figures available, according to the trade group Entertainment Software Association. That places the state’s game sector fifth in size, behind California, Texas, Washington, and New York.

Nearly 20 Massachusetts higher-education institutions offer degree programs or individual courses in digital game design and development. Launched in April, the institute is attempting to create jobs by connecting the digital games industry, higher education, and the public sector. “At the very core, the goals are jobs, jobs, jobs,’’ said Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, the former Worcester mayor, who helped launch the institute. “What can we do to create and grow jobs in this sector? Building the workforce through training and development, linking students with internships.’’

The institute and Becker College will partner with seven private video game and interactive media developers that will provide resources and personnel to support the institute’s initiatives.

Michael Pachter, research analyst for Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said the idea of a digital gaming institute “makes sense’’ in Massachusetts because of its higher-education options and the number of developers who already reside here.

“These are high-wage, high-profile jobs,’’ he said. “These are the kinds of industry jobs you want to attract.’’

The news is good for an industry that has slipped in recent years, compared to other gaming hubs like California, said Michael Cavaretta, an attorney who represents gaming companies. The institute will be a central office for the industry, he said, and should raise awareness of the state’s ability to support a thriving gaming economy.

“One of the ways California is ahead of us in the digital games industry is in venture capital,’’ Cavaretta said. “Having a working group that focuses on capital in the digital game industry will be helpful to educate and bring a level of comfort to investors in the industry.’’

Gamerizon a local success story

By Jason Magder, The Gazette September 15, 2011 4:03 PM

MONTREAL – Although Montreal boasts one of the world’s largest video game development industries, it’s one that has for the most part been transplanted from the U.S., Asia and Europe.

A year ago, 90 per cent those employed in the industry worked for foreign-owned companies, according to a report issued by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

That’s why Thursday’s announcement of a $5 million investment in the local social and mobile gaming studio Gamerizon was seen as good news by local gaming observers.

Gamerizon – founded by Montreal game developers in 2008 – announced it would hire 100 people in the next two years to grow its company. With a current staff of just 15 employees, the company has had remarkable success with its Chop Chop franchise of games with more than 15 million downloads from Apple’s app store.

“It’s about time,” said Chris Arsenault, managing partner of iNovia Capital, which was the secondary investor along with Vanedge Capital. “In the gaming industry, it seems like (independent studios) are just waking up.”

Arsenault said he believes Gamerizon has the potential to earn $100 million in annual revenue and to grow to the size of San Francisco’s Zynga, maker of the popular Facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars.

While Vancouver and Toronto have grown mostly organically, Montreal’s industry has grown primarily by luring larger gaming studios, like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, to set up satellite offices here, mostly by offering tax breaks that cover up to 37.5 per cent of salaries.

There is some danger in relying too much on foreign companies, points out longtime industry observer Jason Della Rocca.

“The vast majority of value generated by this talent leaves the country (i.e., profits, brands, IP),” Della Rocca wrote on the gaming industry website Gamasutra last month. “Even the talent itself, sometimes transient foreign workers, is at risk of leaving. All of which limits innovation and the generation of long-term wealth.”

Alex Sakis, the CEO of Gamerizon said he believes the emergence of so many large companies was an obstacle to developing homegrown companies.

“The fact you had all these international companies coming here, opening large offices, hiring people, took a lot of oomph out of the capacity of small companies to grow,” he said. “We were able to do that because we picked a field early on – mobile gaming which at the time was not a crowded one.”

Foreign-owned companies still dominate Montreal’s gaming industry, and those companies are still growing with nearly 1,000 jobs expected to be created at Electronic Arts, Funcom, THQ, and Warner Bros. in the next few years.

Arsenault believes, however, the tide is about to change. He said Montreal is about to see a boom in local studios setting up shop. He said there has already been some good developments on that front this year, with last May’s announcement of the new gaming studio Sava Transmedia – with plans to hire 200 people within five years.

Alain Tascan, the CEO of Sava Transmedia, said the time is right for independent gaming companies to thrive. He said that’s because most of those companies concentrate on social and mobile games – the industry’s largest growing segment.

“There’s a new generation of independent gaming companies coming to Montreal,” said Tascan, founder of the Montreal studios of Paris-based Ubisoft and Redwood, Calif.’s Electronic Arts. “This shows the new maturity of the industry.”

He said social and mobile games – played either on Facebook or on devices like the iPhone and iPad – have low startup costs, so there are tremendous opportunities in the field. And with so much talent in the established companies, it could be just a matter of time before there are more spinoffs.

Sakis pointed out that so far this year, there have been 6 billion downloads from application stores, and half of those were games, so there is a huge demand for good mobile games.

Despite the good news, the government can still do more to support local independent companies, Della Rocca said, by encouraging incubators that invest in companies that are at the earliest stages of development.

“Building an environment that allows small independent Canadian studios to thrive is more challenging and time-consuming than luring a single large company into an area through direct tax incentives,” Della Rocca wrote. “Not to mention that a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new major studio of an international publisher is much more politically attractive than sustaining dozens of indie failures to reach every Doom-like success.”

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