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.

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