Denius-Sams Gaming Academy: Academy Update #3

3 Jan

When you talk about Leadership (see last update), you have to start with one thought firmly in mind:

There is no “right way” to lead.

There are as many ways to lead as there are people doing the job. No matter how much experience the Denius-Sams staffers may have, we come to the educational process with prejudices formed through years of on-the-job training.

We know our “right way,” but simply communicating that, and giving students a taste of it in a hands-on experience, isn’t good enough for a program like the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. We knew we needed a variety of perspectives, a symphony of voices heard, before we could lock down the curriculum and, certainly, before we started classes.

That led directly to step two in the program development process – assembling a diverse team of advisors. We needed a Development Council.

And what a talented and experienced Council we’ve assembled. We didn’t want just an Austin-centered board of advisors – Austin has its own development community with a lot of similar ideas. We needed out-of-towners, from different development cultures, with different views. Our goal was to ensure that we split roughly 50-50 between industry outsiders and Austin insiders.

We came up with a pretty impressive list. There’s certainly a diversity of experience and ideas represented there!

We have indie developers and advocates like Stephanie Barish (founder of IndieCade) and David Bettner (who, with his brother, Paul, created Words with Friends, an obscure little game you may have heard of).

We have industry veterans, Paul Sams (COO of Blizzard), Richard Garriott (of Origin and now Portalarium fame), Richard Hilleman (long-time Electronic Arts Creative Director), Christopher Weaver (founder of Bethesda Softworks), Gordon Walton (currently CEO of a mysterious startup but ex-of Origin, Maxis, Bioware and many more) and, last but definitely not least, Greg Zeschuk (co-founder of Bioware).

We’ve signed up other development vets, Greg LoPicollo (Chief Creative Officer, Harmonix), Max Hoberman (President of developer, Certain Affinity), Erik Bethke (CEO, Bee Cave Games and author of a classic text on game production) as well as Starr Long (Origin vet, Executive Producer for Disney and now with Portalarium) and consultant Brian Sharp (whose talks on leadership are among GDC’s highlights).

And let’s not slight the biz guys and folks from outside the industry. We need their input, too. There, we have Fred Schmidt (founded and GM’ed too many places and done too much to list here!), Ophir Lupu (game agent for United Talent Agency and a master of the deal), Geoff Yetter (the video game rep at the Texas Film Commission), Jim Butler (the City of Austin’s Creative Industries Development Manager), Denius Wofford (you may recognize his name from the name of the program!), Brad Greaber (CEO of ace animation house, Powerhouse, representing the artists), Michele Martell (VP of Kids Entertainment at World Wrestling Entertainment) and Michael Ryder (Cinematics VP at Blizzard – who among us wouldn’t want to learn from people at Blizzard?).

Oh, and of course, let’s not forget the UT folks who made this all possible – Dean Roderick Hart of the College of Communication, Michael Wilson, the College’s Assistant Dean for External Relations, and Sharon Strover, UT professor who was instrumental in getting the Academy off the ground.

With a lineup like that, there’s no chance we’ll be myopically focused on any one person’s way of doing things. We should be able to expose students to a wide range of “right ways” to lead development teams – including some ways that come from outside the world of game development.

But there’s more to the Development Council than just providing input to the folks building and teaching at the Academy. My hope – and we think we can deliver on this with a very little bit of arm-twisting – is to get members of the Council to do some lecturing and to provide guidance and mentoring to individual students in the program.

Talk about an opportunity to build an all-star network, right out of the gate!

Everyone here is totally psyched to be working with these folks and we’re pretty sure students in the program will be, too.

So, that’s Step two – the Development Council – accomplished. See you next week for a few words about the curriculum.

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