Archive | December, 2013

Denius-Sams Gaming Academy Update #2: Mission and Goals

27 Dec

Last week, I talked about what you’d need to do to apply for admission to the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. (There’s more information coming about that, but it’ll have to wait for a major update of the Gaming Academy website, coming soon…) This week, I want to start telling you what you’d be applying to. Seems only fair!

Let’s start with the obvious: The Gaming Academy is being built from scratch. As I said last week, the University of Texas already has an undergraduate game development program (http://gamedev.utexas.edu/), but the Academy is UT’s first foray into the post-baccalaureate realm.

Where to begin planning such a program?

There are already a lot of academic game development programs out there that do an excellent job teaching people the nuts and bolts of making games. There doesn’t seem to be much point in duplicating what others are already doing.

We needed something new, something unique and original. We needed a mission that would offer value to students and to the games industry (whether the traditional PC, Mac and console side of things or the increasingly important mobile, social and independent games scenes).

Coming up with that mission was step one. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Leadership should be our focus. To be frank, leadership training is simply something the industry doesn’t do very well. It’s all learn-on-the-job and count on a lot of luck. We think we can help.

Now, “leadership” can mean a lot of things. It can mean a job as a Producer, Product Manager, Creative Director or Game Director. It can mean being an effective discipline lead. It can mean running a start-up.

There are plenty of people in the trenches of game development, or new to production and management, who want to take the next step in their careers and move into such positions or build studios of their own. We aim to help them develop the skills to do just that. (Having led teams myself, and been part of a few start-ups, I can tell you that, while there are differences in the skills and knowledge required, there’s also significant overlap. I believe we can serve both constituencies.)

But leadership doesn’t come just from a title and it isn’t solely exercised by people specifically charged with managing a studio or a project. There are discipline leads who would benefit from a deeper understanding of what happens in those overtly big picture positions. And even folks doing what I call “the real work” of game development could benefit – those folks in the trenches I mentioned earlier.  Their projects could benefit if more people had an understanding of the big picture of creative and business issues in game development. Here’s the thing to remember: Leadership happens at all levels. That’s a point we plan to hammer home pretty much every day at the Academy.

We can’t promise that you’ll walk out of the Gaming Academy and get a job as Producer or Director of the next triple-A game from Megapublisher X. No one can. But we can help you acquire skills that would qualify you for such a role and help you make other people’s jobs easier, whether above or below you on the totem pole – a critical aspect of leadership in any team environment. We can ensure that you leave with some important skills you probably didn’t have before.

Like what exactly? What will you leave the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy knowing and/or able to do?

  • You’ll have the skills to Produce or Direct a game through each of its key milestones, from initial concept to post-ship support.
  • You’ll be able to make full use of the leadership potential found in any position on a game development team – not just Producer or Director.
  • You’ll be able to deal with the challenges of a big development team – how to manage team communication, stay organized and maintain a creative vision.
  • You’ll know how to handle the inevitable creative, technical and organizational crises that can happen at any stage of development.
  • You’ll understand how games fit into larger culture and how to build a vision for their future as a vital form of entertainment and a meaningful art form.
  • At the very least, you’ll leave with an understanding of what leaders deal with everyday and the ability to make their lives easier.

We believe all of this adds up to a shorter dues-paying period before you, maybe, get a shot at such a position yourself.

So, that’s step one accomplished – we have a mission, one that benefits students and industry.

Next time, I’ll begin outlining how we’re planning on turning that mission into a reality – into a fully-fledged game development program unlike the rest. See you here next week.

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My first Denius-Sams Gaming Academy update

20 Dec

As some of you may know, I’ve decided to take a little break from game development to help develop some students, instead. As of October 1, I’m officially the Director of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at The University of Texas at Austin.

As part of that job, I want to keep people apprised of what’s going on as I work with folks at UT to plan the course of study. What that means for readers of my blog is that, every Friday for the next several weeks (at least), I’ll be posting updates about the Academy here.

Two things to note before we get started:

First, the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy is not the same as the undergraduate Game Development Program at The University of Texas at Austin (about which you can find more information at http://gamedev.utexas.edu/). They’re doing a fine job training undergrads to make games, but this is something different…

Second, anything you read here in the coming weeks is subject to change. The goal of this series of posts is to give you some insight into the thought process behind the creation of a new program and a look at where we are as of today. There could very easily be changes over the next few months. I’ll keep you posted if/when that happens.

So here goes…

UPDATE #1: So You Want to Apply

In the weeks to come, you’ll learn about the program’s mission and goals… how we’ll teach what we’re going to teach… about faculty… all sorts of things. But even though it’s a little out of order, let’s start with what most of you have asked about – admission requirements and the benefits of enrolling in the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy.

The first thing to know is that we’re only taking 20 students, no matter how many great applications we receive. The idea here is three-fold:

First, we want to ensure that our first class consists only of the best of the best game developers, whether they are or aspire to be producers, designers, programmers, artists or sound engineers – even marketers, maybe. We’re looking for people who already know how to make games and want to go back to school to continue their game development education in a rigorous industry-inspired environment.

Second, we want to be able to assemble one big team (or relatively big, anyway). At the Gaming Academy all 20 people will work on one game during the course of the year, in order to simulate the experience of working on a large, complex project. Twenty is more than enough people to accomplish that goal and if we added any more there’s a risk we’d shortchange people in the program who expect and deserve one-on-one time with the program staff.

Finally, and needless to say, with just 20 students we get some real competition going for limited slots – as fierce at it is in the real world of development, where it isn’t unusual to get a lot of resumes for each open position.

Why do we expect a lot of applications?

Our focus on leadership (about which more in the coming weeks) is, I’m pretty sure, unique among development programs. We’re looking for people who want to move from rank-and-file positions into leadership, or people who are in assistant or associate level leadership positions and hope to move up. If my experience in game development is any guide, that means pretty much everyone working in games today and that means lots of applications. Combine that with few slots and you get serious competition.

So it’ll be tough to get in. What benefits do you get (beyond training for leadership positions, of course)? Well, we’re offering something no other program offers – we’re going to pay you to attend the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. (Even I’m kind of blown away by that and I’m a part of the program!)

Yeah, you heard that right. We’re waiving tuition entirely (though you’ll still have to get to Austin on your own and books and such will be your responsibility). And, in addition to the tuition waiver, we’re going to pay each student a stipend of $10,000. How’s that for a deal?

What’s required of our talented twenty stipended students? There are three doors you can walk through to get here:

  • You can be a graduate of an existing game development program.
  • You can have a minimum of three years of industry experience.
  • You can be so damn good we have no choice but to admit you even if you don’t have a degree or experience. (This last one’s likely to be tough…)

What do you have to submit to be considered?

  • A portfolio – preferably a game (or games), but submit anything you think will bolster your case. What you choose to submit will play into whether you get admitted or not!
  • A statement of purpose. Why do you want to attend? What do you hope to get out of the program? What do you want, career-wise? Tell us anything you want to tell us about yourself that you think will bolster your case.
  • Three letters of recommendation from people you’ve studied or worked with (as proof that you’re qualified to walk through one of the three doors listed above and that you’re the kind of person we want in the program).
  • A simple application form (which we’ll provide, of course). We’re working on an online application form that will be ready when the time comes.

We reserve the right to ask for additional materials, as needed (e.g., school transcripts, proof of employment, that sort of thing) plus we’ll ask some applicants to participate in what I expect will be pretty intense interviews.

We’ll start accepting applications in January  – right around the corner – so keep an eye on the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy website where we’ll post the actual procedure for applying. For now, start putting materials together – as much or as little as you think you need to make your case.

But here’s something to think about before you apply: This is going to be one rigorous program. The work’s going to be tough – we’re thinking boot camp tough – and the hours are likely to be long. Make sure you’re up for it…

Anyway, you can ponder that until next week when we’ll start getting into what you’ll be applying for! (I said we were taking this a little out of order.)

If you have any questions, now or at any point in the future, post them here and I’ll try to answer.

Oh, and if you want to get these updates before anyone else, go the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy website and sign up for the mailing list. I can’t promise you information that doesn’t get posted on my blog, but I can promise you’ll get it earlier than the rest of the world.

See you next week.