DSGA year one recap, part 4

29 Jun

Now that my little foray into the messy world of VR is sort of almost please let it be over, it’s time to get back to the DSGA recap. A lot happened in our first year and I still want to talk about it.

When last we spoke, I described how the DSGA found its focus and how we found our staff. Our next challenge was finding students – a program without students doesn’t make much sense, obviously.

We knew what we wanted:

  • People right out of school who wanted to continue their education (without digging themselves a deeper hole of student debt) and who wanted to learn things they hadn’t learned in undergraduate or graduate programs.
  • People from industry – mainstream or indie, we didn’t care either way – who realized they needed to become better team members and team leaders if they were going to achieve the success they desired without spending a lifetime acquiring the necessary skills.
  • People who were so damn good and with such obvious leadership potential that we had no choice but to admit them. I mean, I didn’t want to be the guy who turned down the next Richard Garriott or Chris Roberts just because they lacked an appropriate degree!

But regardless of where these folks came from, we wanted only people who aspired to and had the potential to grow into leaders – official, titled leaders or people with the ability to lead from any position on a team.

Where the heck do you find such people?

It wasn’t rocket science: We spread the word through personal connections the staff had built up over seventy years of game development experience. We asked our Development Council of industry notables to contact their contacts. I went on the road, speaking at a variety of colleges and universities offering game development courses and degrees. We took out ads on Gamasutra. We got booths at conferences to pass out fliers, get email addresses and press the flesh. We built a website and a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. I blogged up a storm. In fact, if you want more information about the program plan, check out the series of blog posts I posted last year (see below for more info) – most of that information’s still valid and useful if you’re thinking about applying.

Out of all that effort, we got a ton of applications, complete with resumes, statements of purpose, portfolios and descriptions of work done on teams and in solo efforts. We played a bunch of submitted games. We argued amongst ourselves and, ultimately, came up with a list of people we wanted to talk to.

We did a bunch of phone screens – 60 or so of them – approaching the process much as we would have if we’d been hiring for a real game team, with the added twist of sussing out leadership aspirations and potential. We looked for people who would be a good team fit, or a challenging fit, or people we thought we could help grow in ways that would further their careers.

Finally, we made offers. Astonishingly, we had a nearly 100% acceptance rate – we made an offer; the offer was accepted. In all cases save one. Frankly, we were pleased but shocked.

We ended up with three people who’d been running their own studios but wanted to learn how to build a sustainable, growing business. We had six who came to us with industry experience at studios large and small. We had nine with educational backgrounds and two who, well, let’s say they fell into the “other” category. We had people with no college degree and others with Masters degrees. We had writers, level builders, UX/UI folks, 3D artists, 2D artists, modelers and coders. And, without going into detail, we ended up with a more diverse set of people than I’ve had at most of the studios I’ve run – and we didn’t try for that; we simply brought in the best people we could and the diversity issue became something of a non-problem.

Anyway, by the end of summer, we had our people. Classes were scheduled to start on August 27th and before that day arrived, we had to figure out how to mold all these people – people used to being in charge – into a functioning development team! We’ll come back to how we did that, and how the first year really went in the next post.

In the meantime, there’s still time to apply for next year’s class. The DSGA is looking for candidates for the 2015-2016 school year. More information about the Academy is available at http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy. Even more information can be found in some of my earlier blog posts from last year, starting in December 2013 and continuing until April of 2014 – https://warrenspector.wordpress.com/2013/12/. And if you’re already sold, to apply go to http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy/apply.

One last (I hope) word about VR

27 Jun

I got an email this morning from a friend who’s working in VR. His comments made it clear that I hadn’t been particularly clear in some of my statements and, certainly, not in my motivation for making them.

So here’s one (last?) set of observations/clarifications on VR and then, if you folks will let me, I’m going to sit back, watch what happens and let history take its course:

1. As an individual, I find VR cool, interesting and compelling. I’m not anti-VR. The content is coming, I have no doubt – I know too many super-smart, super-creative people working to create the unique content that will make the VR experience desirable if not irresistible.

2. As a developer, speaking strictly personally, I’m not much interested in making VR games. That could change, but right now I’m interested in other things. That isn’t to say other developers should follow my lead. I’m just a guy whose head is in a different space these days. (Mostly a mobile space, if you want to know…)

3. As a friend, I hope I’m wrong about VR’s long-term commercial future in the game space. I have lots of friends working on VR projects and I genuinely, truly, unreservedly want their hard work in the VR space to bring them satisfaction and success.

4. As a consumer, I’m torn. I’ll probably buy some sort of VR gear when I can because I’m affluent enough and enough of a geek to be intrigued by new tech, cool content and potential new futures. The question is, am I anti-social enough not to worry too much about isolation from the world or how I look to anyone observing me wearing a goofy headset? Probably, but I’m still wrestling with that.

5. As an investor (not that I am one!) I’d be pushing VR developers to explain how they’re going to overcome non-technical challenges for which I, personally, see no answers. There seems to be an attitude in the press and among fans, at least, of “If you build it they will come.” I suspect that same attitude prevails among VR hardware and software developers, but I don’t know – either because I haven’t paid close enough attention or because they’re just not talking. “If you build it they will come” works really well in movies but not so well in real life. This is the heart of what I’ve been saying about VR and despite trying to be as provocative as I can be without getting downright offensive, I still haven’t heard anyone address the ergonomic and user challenges VR faces – all anyone wants to talk about is content. Maybe there are answers to the non-content questions, maybe not, but I’d love to see people in and out of the field at least try to address them.

So that’s it. To summarize: I’m a VR fan but not a true-believer. I believe VR will be a game-changer (as it were) in many aspects of our future lives but not necessarily in gaming. I want to see VR succeed as a gaming device, but see potential roadblocks being ignored. I see history working against this new tech, but hope smart people can write a new kind of history.

In closing, I’ll just say that if anyone working on VR stuff wants to show off their work I’m always up for demos. Despite appearances, I’m not the enemy and I am interested in what you’re doing. Like I said, I think VR is challenged, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t damn cool…

So let’s talk about VR

26 Jun

I’ve been pretty vocal about my thoughts about VR, both in the past and most recently in an interview I did for gamesindustry.biz. (A few years ago I was pretty vocal about stereopscopic 3D, too, but more about that later.) I’ve consistently thought and said that VR would end up being a fad – not this year’s Next Big Thing or The Future(tm) of gaming, movies or the bringer of peace in our time.

I’ve gotten a lot of responses to that opinion, some of them along the lines of “It’s about time someone said this,” some talking about how wrong I am because VR is so cool and all I need is a demo to make a convert of me.

Let me be clear. I’m enough of a geek to AGREE that VR is cool. I get that. Heck, I supported all the available headsets in a couple of games back in the mid-90s. I can see all sorts of advantages over ordinary, external-screen oriented projects: There’s a sense of scale to VR, a feeling of immersion, a naturalness of some (though just some) aspects of interface and interaction you can’t get anywhere else. I get all that.

I see how cool VR games could be. And I definitely see non-game uses that might ensure VR has SOME place in our 21st century experience.

The question is should we and, more important, WILL we build those games (and non-game applications) and will enough people buy them to make the platform commercially viable.

(And don’t even get me started about all the movie guys getting into VR, afraid they’ll miss the next big thing. VR is NOTHING like movies. In fact, I’d argue that VR demands an approach to content presentation that undercuts literally everything that makes movies unique and wonderful. But that’s another topic for another time…)

Anyway, getting back to the general coolness of VR, my cynicism is largely limited to VR for gaming. For non-gaming purposes, as I said, VR has undeniable and huge potential that really excites me and is likely to appeal to an audience that has no interest in games more “game-y” than Candy Crush Saga. Business, educational and personal users are likely to integrate VR into aspects of their business and personal lives maybe even sooner rather than later.

The low hanging fruit of non-gaming VR is fascinating – VR for virtual meetings, Skype++, training, education and a host of other things seems totally desirable. (For some reason I’m obsessed with the ways in which VR can help phobia sufferers get past their fears. Go figure.). In non-everyday areas of life, the impact of VR seems inevitable and offers a major leap forward in many areas.

All I’m talking about when I trot out the “fad” language is that, for gaming VR is likely to be limited to hardcore players, not the larger casual market. And, though gamers hate hearing this, the business is already turning its focus to the mainstream – not exclusively, but heavily and permanently.

It’s the impact of VR on normal non-game-obsessed humans I’m thinking of when I say VR is a fad. It wouldn’t surprise me if the whole VR thing went away completely. But it would be equally unsurprising if a small group of dedicated geeks who already play games alone or online kept VR going as a niche peripheral, making some money for a handful of VR hardware companies for some time to come.

(And before anyone cites the “enormous” sales of consoles and the audience for online PC games, let’s compare that with the number of people who have smart phones in their pockets right now. The community of real gamers looks pretty small to me in that context.)

But let’s talk about another way to look at new media. Let’s talk a little about the history of technology adaptation as it relates to VR’s its “inevitable” dominance of the media scene.

I realize history isn’t a perfect predictor of the future, but look at technology adaptation historically, and you see something interesting. (At least I find it interesting.)

Adaptation of successful technologies tends to be fairly linear – after some semi-relevant experiments, movies began in the 1890s and grew steadily into a generally accepted part of life. The advent of sound was important, but it’s not like the movies would have ceased to exist without it.

Television was introduced experimentally in the 1930s, with no expectation of commercial success. Upon its release to the public, it has been with us ever since, growing in influence and cultural impact all the while. The advent of color was an important, but evolutionary step without which the medium would have continued unchecked and unstoppable.

Same for radio, personal computers, telephones, mobile phones, stereophonic sound (and successive enhancements), even games themselves.

Successful technologies develop in closed-door experimentation and, upon release, meet a need and develop without breaks. People vote with their dollars for the things they want, those things become part of their lives and they remain so. “Disruption” really isn’t much of an issue once a tech takes hold.

What we see with VR (and stereoscopic 3D) is very different. In both cases, the technology was touted as The Next Big Thing before anyone had any reason to expect that experimental and clearly non-commercial iterations were released commercially. And, most interesting to me, is that they appear, go away, return, go away and return again every N years to rescue some creatively or financially challenged business. The predictable appearance and disappearance – and the seeming blindness and lack of historical memory – kind of amuses me, if you want to know.

Stereoscopic 3D is a case in point. Stereo presentations were popular in the 1890s… and the 1920s… and the 1950s… and the 1980s… and in the 2010s… See the pattern? Every 30 years stereo comes and then it goes. Every time. It was trivial to call out the latest round of 3D movies, televisions and games as a fad that would become irrelevant if not disappear completely. (And, yes, I know 3D movies are still around, but I’d argue they survive because their premium price point helps make up for the mediocre grosses. And with that, I’ll never work in Hollywood, I guess.)

And then we have VR. It was proclaimed as The Future in the 1980s. The New York Times and other mainstream media waxed rhapsodic about it at the time. VR was The Future in the 1990s. It skipped a decade and is now The Future in the 2010s. Yes, optics and head-tracking are getting better. But fundamental problems with the technology still exist that exist well outside the technological advances we’ve seen – headsets that isolate rather than pull people together, can’t be called fashion statements and cause nausea in many users… These are still with us and likely to stay with us. They’re fundamental elements of the experience and they have minimized the impact of VR each time someone gets a burr up their butt about taking the first step toward the holodeck and tries to commercialize it.

So I’ll stand by my VR thoughts.Yes, VR is cool. Technologists and early adaptors love it. But I still think there are challenges ahead. Some of these — cost… quality of optics… lag in head-tracking…– will be solved over time. However, there are others that seem less solvable to me. And it bothers me enough to scream “Fad” because, in part, no one even bothers to address them, so blinded are they by VR’s undeniable coolness. Maybe to shut me up, VR fans simply have to acknowledge problems and engage in dialogue about how to solve them. I’m not an unreasonable guy. Okay, maybe I am, but I’m always open to being proved wrong. It’s just that no one has yet, when it comes to VR.

So… someone tell me you can design and wear a VR headset that doesn’t look stupid and make the user look even more stupid… Tell me how VR can help people – family and friends – engage with one another rather than isolating them…Tell me how a VR game can be both played by an immersed player and still be enjoyed by other people in the room who can’t see what the player is experiencing… Tell me why VR headsets will be the first ever peripheral not bundled with hardware people already want that formed the basis of a successful business. No one I can think of has created a successful business on the basis of a peripheral.

I simply don’t see how those fundamental aspects of the VR experience will be solved. Unless I’m missing something, they can’t be, without fundamentally changing the experience (which means we’d be talking about something other than VR anyway, making this whole conversation/argument moot).

I realize I may look like an idiot in 5 or 10 years. I know lots of you ALREADY think I’m an idiot. But I think it’s too early to tell whether I’m right or simply biased by my prejudices. Similarly, folks enamored of the coolness of VR are equally guilty of being blinded by that coolness – people who tout the potential of VR to be an inevitable game-changer and/or a disruptor express no other argument ASIDE from coolness.

So rather than focusing exclusively on creative compelling experiences and ignoring serious limitations and challenges ahead, let’s acknowledge that there are real barriers to commercial success beyond some very specific needs and relatively small audiences. The prevailing attitude and argument seems to be “if you build it (and the price point and optics improve) they will come.” And I’m not buying it.

What would this dialogue look like if you weren’t allowed to say “cool” or “compelling” or “creative?” What if you had to say “I see the non-creative challenges and here’s how to solve them?” That seems like a constraint that should be informing the VR discussion before we all get carried away.

Coolness isn’t enough to tout any technology (or anything else) as The Future of anything.

Thoughts on E3 2015

20 Jun

I still have more to say about the DSGA’s first year, but I wanted to offer some thoughts on the recent E3 show before it became old news.

For starters, either consoles are far from being dead, as many believe, or the hardware guys are exceptionally good at pretending to be alive, kicking and relevant. I’m not sure which is true.

Content-wise, I went to the show expecting non-stop sequels. To some extent, I was right. You had to work hard to avoid all the games with a 4, 5, 6 or 14 after their names. I will never understand why people put up with what basically amounts to the same old same old gameplay. But put up with it they do – the crowds lined up for some sequels were ridiculous.

It was also hard not to notice all the great graphics. (I mean Forza 6… the new Tomb Raider game… holy cow.) Having said that, there were times when I literally couldn’t tell what gorgeous game I was looking at if I didn’t look at the signage. That was kind of sad.

Couple of mysteries:

With the exception of Oculus Rift, which attracted the usual enthusiastic crowds, I really didn’t see much interest in VR or AR. (I didn’t see Microsoft’s Hololens, but everything I heard says it’s pretty special so take everything I say here with a grain of salt.) The other VR/AR stuff seemed like a big ho-hum to me. Maybe that’s just my prejudice – I think VR’s going to be a fad (again) and at best a minor part of gaming’s future, not unlike stereoscopic 3D, which I also called out as a fad. (I still think I’m right about 3D. Check back with me in five years and you can tell me what a boob I was about VR.)

And where was all the mobile stuff? I saw a smattering of mobile games here and there, but I expected a lot more.

In terms of content, there were lots of multiplayer shooters… lots of multiplayer battle games… lots of old classics making a return with modern graphics. Yawn.

But hidden among all the old hat were some gems of originality. Bear in mind that it’s impossible to see everything at E3, so I’m sure I missed a ton of interesting stuff. Also, bear in mind that I was unwilling to stand in line for six hours (or pull in favors) to see The Last Guardian. And I couldn’t find any evidence that No Man’s Sky was being shown. Those caveats out of the way, here’s what stood out for me at E3 2015:

First, the console guys are clearly serious about indie games and showed a lot of  them – a LOT. That was great to see.

In terms of specific games, let’s start with Cuphead. Simply put, Cuphead rocked. I’m not usually a graphics-first guy, but I’ll make an exception here. Cuphead looked unique… absolutely phenomenal. Maybe it’s just that I’m a geek for classic animation, but I cannot wait to play it, even though the gameplay will likely be too hard for me as a twitch-skill challenged gamer.

Over at the Nintendo booth, it was nice to see a Zelda Tri-Force Heroes. It’s ALWAYS nice to see a new Zelda game. And Mario Maker is totally cool if for no other reason than the possibility that normal humans will find out how hard it is to make games…

In the realm of traditional mainstream publishers, two other  things stood out:

For Honor, from Ubisoft, is a sword-fighting game that looks like it’ll offer something new in the fighting game genre. Looking forward to that one.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how cool Deus Ex: Mankind Divided looked over at Square Enix. Nice to see DX in such good hands.

And then we come to Indicade. Ah, Indicade… If you want originality, that’s the place to go. There was plenty to see there, but three games stood out, all for different reasons. (Differentness is part of what makes indie games cool.)

Wattam from Funomena and Katamari Damacy designer, Keita Takahashi, is just crazy unlike any other game I’ve ever seen. (Frankly, I worry that it’s so different, it might run into some commercial difficulties, but let’s hope for the best.) Wattam is a wonder. Soulful in a medium that’s often soulless… a work of childlike wonder… a real sense of discovery… and often laugh-out-loud funny. I just hope people get it. I’m not even going to describe the graphics or gameplay. I don’t have the words. Just trust me on this one…

Chambara is kind of a stealth fighter. (Like Wattam, it’s hard to describe, which I love about it.) One player character is flat white; the other is flat black. And the world is all flat white and flat black, too, so your character blends completely into the background. Before you can deal with your enemy, you have to find him (or her, gender being kind of a non-issue here). I’ve never seen a game that uses color as mechanic and graphics as gameplay. Very impressive (even if I sucked at playing it).

In Tribal & Error you have to help out a bunch of stone age people who speak a language you can’t understand. When they speak, they display a variety of symbols above their heads. You have to figure out what those symbols mean, string them together to construct sentences and get the stone agers to perform various actions to get themselves out of trouble, (Man, this game is ALSO hard to describe.) A game that’s about language learning that involves no real world languages is something I’ve never seen before. Here’s the paradox: I found Tribal & Error incredibly frustrating to play, but, despite that, I wanted to keep on playing. Language learning as mechanic. I wish I’d thought of that.

So. E3. Mixed bag. A handful of interesting mainstream games. Several interesting indie games (apologies to the games I didn’t mention here…).

I’m left thinking the games medium is in pretty okay shape, but it’s likely to be a very different medium before too long.

Okay, next time, it’s back to the DSGA first year.

DSGA year one recap, part 3

19 Jun

Last time, I talked about finding a focus for the DSGA, one that met an industry need and differentiated us from all the other programs out there. Once that vision was in place it was time to find people who could help take it from conception to reality. In that sense, the situation wasn’t much different than the complex but fascinating process of putting together a game team.

I knew I needed people with real and recent industry experience – people who had built teams, run studios, managed real projects. I’ve never seen the point in having instructors who’ve never worked on a game, or who worked on games ten years ago. Even though lessons of leadership are, to an extent, timeless, the games industry changes so rapidly that recent experience seemed like a must if for no other reason than to provide appropriate context for the lessons we want to teach.

In addition, I needed staff members whose experience didn’t just mirror my own, but differed from it, in terms of the scope and type of games made, the size and makeup of teams managed and the studio/publisher cultures in which they had worked. Varied real-world experience was critical to me and, I thought, to the mission of the DSGA.

Why is that? Well, I’ve hired lots of developers straight out of school and a surprising (and, frankly, distressing) number of grads come to professional development with the idea that there’s One Right Way to do things. I mean, they learned it from their teachers so it has to be right, right? (The power of teachers is pretty remarkable, actually, which offers great benefits, but at some cost…)

Certainty about the One Right Way has always frustrated me. First of all, every team and every project is unique. What worked on one project might not be appropriate on the next. Second, every studio and publisher is different – often to the extent of having radically different vocabularies to describe the same things. And finally, speaking strictly for myself, my teams and studios have typically made different kinds of games than a lot of other developers so, not surprisingly, we’ve had a different way of thinking about and doing things than others. Applying a “one size fits all” philosophy just doesn’t make sense.

But I only know what I know – my way. And my way was born in the crucible of triple-A PC and console games. I’ve never worked on anything small, anything mobile or anything multiplayer. So, I needed people with different experiences, who’d disagree with me on all sorts of topics. (We’ll talk about how that worked out during our first year in another blog post. For now, suffice to say, differentness was a key criterion for me in the staff search.)

Finding people with recent real world experience – and different experiences, to boot – wasn’t easy. The search involved months of outreach and interviews. I talked to a lot of people! I talked to some great teachers with great academic experience. I found great developers without proven teaching skills. Ultimately, I found the two people I wanted and needed to make the DSGA a success.

The first staffer to sign on was Joshua Howard. Joshua was a 15 year Microsoft veteran, filling a variety of positions there – Program Manager… studio head at MS’s Carbonated Games… Executive Producer for the Microsoft Flight team… He also put in some time as Executive Producer at Crytek. That was the kind of professional resume I was looking for. And talk about different experience! But there was more.

Joshua had been a regular speaker at GDC Online conferences and IGDA Leadership Forums. His topic of choice? Leadership. He had studied the topic more deeply than I ever had and was able to articulate core leadership concepts in a way I never could. (Face it, for better or worse – mostly worse, I suspect! – I’m a fly by the seat of the pants guy…) If you’re interested in some of his talks, check them out on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/MrJoshuaHoward?utm_campaign=profiletracking&utm_medium=sssite&utm_source=ssslideview and if you want to check out his blog, it’s at https://thereisnothem.wordpress.com/. He hasn’t updated it in a while (and feels appropriately guilty about it) but what’s there is well worth reading.

Oh, and I’m totally jealous of Joshua’s lecturing ability and style. Damn it.

Then it was on to the search for staffer #2. That search led me to David “D.S.” Cohen. David’s background is as different from mine as Joshua’s was, and different from Joshua’s as well.

David comes to the DSGA with 16 years of videogame experience. He started in 1999 as a Marketing Coordinator on the publishing and licensing side before moving into Producer and Senior Producer roles for companies large and small (Warner Bros. Interactive/WB Games, Brash Entertainment, Oddworld Inhabitants, National Geographic Society, and Schell Games). He’s also a student of video game history (see http://classicgames.about.com/) writing and editing series of articles about classic video games for About.com.

David’s experience runs the gamut from small projects to large ones… casual, educational and elearning… ports and licenses… mobile, PC and console.., online, multiplayer, single player… Like I said, very different from me!

Oh, and David wrote a book about game production – Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design (http://www.amazon.com/Producing-Games-Business-Budgets-Creativity/dp/0240810708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366136278&sr=8-1&keywords=Producing+Games).

Both David and Joshua were clearly committed to helping leaders-to-be achieve both personal and professional growth. I was sold and convinced them to join me at the DSGA.

We had a staff.

Next time, we’ll talk about students.

DSGA year one recap, part 2

8 Jun

Last time, I described the challenges we faced in creating the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. Today I want to focus on one of them – focus… as in the finding of ours.

The clear focus was relatively simple to define. Thinking back on the 31 years I’d been making games I saw a pretty obvious training gap that needed to be filled.

Simply put, the video game industry has always done a terrible job training its leaders and managers. It’s definitely a sink or swim business! There’s very little systematic thinking that goes into the creation and communication of a clear, compelling vision… the conditions conducive to the creation of a positive, effective team culture… and there’s virtually no training in how individuals who aren’t yet in titled positions of leadership contribute to culture creation or how they can function as maximally effective team members within the constraints imposed by that culture.

I’m the last guy who’d say on-the-job experience isn’t valuable. Clearly, it is – heck, it’s not like I got any training except what I got from folks like Richard Garriott and Steve Jackson when I worked for them. But it takes time – time that experienced in-house mentors could spend on, you know, games. On top of that, the ad hoc nature of our non-training approach to leadership development does little to ensure that anyone will succeed. And, finally, assuming people will learn on the job all but ensures that a lot of the wrong lessons will be learned (or, at least, that lessons learned at one company, may not be applicable at another).

Now, before you go telling me that leaders are born, not made, think about where we’d be if, say, the military decided to let leaders simply emerge entirely by virtue of time spent in uniform. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? So the military trains its leaders through the application of time-tested processes.

Ditto for many major corporations. In fact, lots of game developers and publishers are beginning to look for certified Project Managers to keep game developers on track, acknowledging the value of training, at least on the management side of things.

If you do a little digging, you’ll discover that there’s a lot that can be learned about management and, perhaps more surprising, there’s a lot of systematic thought on the making of great leaders and the creation of great teams for those leaders to lead.

With that in mind, a focus on leadership, management and team creation/participation seemed like something that would differentiate the DSGA from most, if not all, game development programs out there. And consulting with the members of our Development Council, we determined that it would even benefit existing developers and publishers, as well as newly-minted development studios on the indie side of things.

So we had our focus on leadership and management training. This was a gap that needed to be filled, and we were determined to fill it. Now all we needed to do was find the right people to teach the ways of leadership and management. (And I do mean “ways” – there’s no one right way, something I kept very much in mind when looking for faculty members and something of critical importance to the DSGA program…)

Next time, I’ll dive into the challenge of finding faculty members.

And, in the meantime, remember that we’re looking for candidates for our second year of leadership and management training. More information about the Academy is available at http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy. More information can also be found in some of my blog posts from last year, starting in December 2013 and continuing until April of 2014 – https://warrenspector.wordpress.com/2013/12/. And if you’re already sold, to apply go to http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy/apply.

DSGA year one recap, part 1

7 Jun

A year. It’s been a year. A year since I blogged. A year since we made the decisions about who would be admitted to the first class of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. Almost a year since the 2014/2015 school year started. And it’s been a month since we completed our first year. Where the heck does the time go?…

It’s been an eventful year, that’s for sure. One in which we learned a lot. And I mean a lot…

In a sense, the words “be careful what you wish for” apply perfectly. Bottom line? I decided to take a hiatus from game development because I was looking for some new and different challenges. I’ve certainly gotten them!

So what sort of challenges did we face in creating a brand new game development program?

The first challenge was simply figuring out what the DSGA should be all about. I didn’t see much point in simply duplicating what other game development programs do. Plenty of colleges and universities do a fine job of teaching people the nuts and bolts of making games. Trying to compete with such well-established programs seemed likely to end up in us getting crushed. The DSGA needed a unique focus.

The second challenge was finding the right people to teach leadership skills. I could have looked for faculty members with a ton of teaching experience as the number one qualification, but I knew what I really needed was people with real, hands-on (and recent) game development and/or studio management experience. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy finding people with those qualifications who were at a point in their lives where they were ready to give back to an industry that had done so much for them. I had to lure some people away from development and convince them that academia offered satisfactions they couldn’t find any other way.

The third challenge was finding students. We had a brand new, untested program and we needed to, first, get the word out and, second, convince people to give our fledgling program a shot.

Finally, from a pool of potential candidates we had to identify the 20 best and brightest from among our applicants. We needed young developers with aspirations and raw aptitude to lead.

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, all of those challenges were overcome. To be honest, things went even better than I hoped they would.

Next time, I’ll tell you how we addressed each of those challenges.

In the meantime, bear in mind that the DSGA is looking for candidates for our second year of leadership and management training. If you’re interested but want details, go to our website – http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy. If you want even more information, check out my blog posts from last year, starting in December 2013 and going pretty regularly until April of 2014 – https://warrenspector.wordpress.com/2013/12/. You can also like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DeniusSamsGamingAcademy/
. Finally, if you’re just ready to apply, go to http://moody.utexas.edu/gaming-academy/apply.

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