Gamers as Creators

Gamers as Creators
How Hard Can It Be?

Andrew Ryan | 21 Jun 2011 12:30
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"The most basic starting point is realizing that you have a passion for playing videogames, and along with this passion, you want to take part in the creation of games," says Rob Catto, Program Director for Game Studies at Full Sail University. "First you have to determine if you already possess, or if you have the interest in obtaining, the skills associated with game development, be it as a programmer, an artist, an animator, designer, etc."

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Located just outside Orlando, Fla., Full Sail University offers a variety of on-campus and online Bachelor and Master of Science degree programs including: Game Design, Game Development and Game Art. which were designed to equip students with the real-world skills needed in the industry . Catto also recommends gaining experience by researching game development when choosing to pursue an education or career in this field.

"There are plenty of people involved with independent projects looking for help, and a Google search for 'indie game development' is a great place to start," he adds. "If you feel you do not have the skills associated with game development, then you might be interested in getting involved with a mod. You will get a sense for what it is really like to make a game and be part of a team."

Traditional liberal arts and sciences colleges and universities now offer degrees directly relevant to the videogame industry. Four years ago, Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., unveiled a game design degree program as part of its Creative Industries program. Students create their own combined major with either Interactive Media or Game Design partnered with coursework in subjects like Computer Science, Graphic Design, Digital Art, or Music Technology.

According to Terrence Masson, Director of Creative Industries at Northeastern, while the program is only for full-time undergrads, the sister College of Professional Studies offers part-time certificate programs in digital media including game design and interactive media right on campus.

"Beyond the technical or business skills, you need to have an understanding of the industry," Masson says. "If you decide that going back to school in some fashion is best for you, look for courses that will help you understand what is going on in the industry, what's driving the trends and why some companies succeed or fail."

You may find that you do not need to pursue a degree, and that taking courses on a one-by-one basis will be sufficient.

"It is possible to get a good education and make contacts without upending your life," says Suzanne Freyjadis, co-chair of the International Game Developers Association's (IGDA) Education Special Interest Group. "Often times the local community college will have relevant courses, and that's a great option especially for people making a lateral move who have full time jobs and family commitments. Community colleges offer the flexibility you may need in terms of scheduling, and are typically very affordable. "Additionally, community colleges often recruit industry professionals to teach the classes, so you can start building your network of contacts while you're in class."

And that brings us to a lesson just important as any you may learn in a classroom: You must begin networking.

"I joined every group I could, and found the Writer's Special Interest Group of the IDGA very, very helpful," says Orkin. "I also started going to the Game Narrative Conference in Austin every year. The information provided during the panel discussions and seminars was great, but even more helpful were the people I met. The veteran game writers who are part of the group have been incredibly welcoming."

Orkin also started attending the annual Game Developer's Conference and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), where he met the team with the developer Techland, which had recently released the game Chrome and was working on a new Western-themed game. Orkin is a huge fan of Westerns and began talking to one of the developers about the narrative.

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