Late-night Thoughts on GDC 2011

Four years ago, I came to GDC for a second time. After all of the years I put in trying to make interactive media as the source of income, I saw that trip as my last chance to get a foot in the door. That year, 2007, I broke a GDC rule. I got a job with my top choice in a studio.

This GDC, I talked to a super majority of non-art entry level and students that came to GDC. The Telltale jobs booth is one of the most attended job booths at the convention. I took great pains to be kind and give career counseling to people who are working the right direction but don’t have a fit to what my employer is seeking. I hope I gave the right kind of direction to help them grow. The kind of advice I wish I had when I was in their shoes.

When people see my business card, there’s a wide eye reaction that the met someone from Telltale. It is humbling to me that I have earned such respect with my work to incite this kind of reaction. I hope that I impress on them an openness and kindness when they meet me. I hope that I live up to and surpass the expectation from the work my fellow artists and I have created. I hope that the impression I left with the people I met at GDC this year

I hope that the impression I left with the people I met at GDC this year is that kindness and hard work do indeed lead to great things. I can not live in a world in which my success came exclusively by luck alone and that hard work and adaptiveness lead me to where I am today. That is why I will do what I can to give the kind of support to the people who came to the other side of my table the past few days. Four years ago this week, I was one of them.

Throwing the Hat in for PAX

Filling out the application for speaking at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) on Higher Education in video games. Since the Boing Boing interview, I’ve had a strong desire to start a substantive debate of the roll of academics with the video games industry.

What sparked my desire to do this lecture came from a conversation I had while standing outside a GDC party for Steam/Valve. While talking to a man whom had at least 15 years in the industry, he really brought to light the disconnect between academia and the industry. We got on the education subject and snapped back by saying he preferred students from DigiPen and Fullsail because they do what they are told. I have a much different take on the situation as I consider students from these and other schools with much more respect than he did. I want to make sure there are enough students out there to prove me right and him completely wrong.

Here’s the text I used in applying for the PAX lecture. Obviously not set in stone, but I’d love your feedback as I start shaping this lecture in the next few months.

Title:
Making a Career in Video Games

One-Paragraph Description:
Are you looking for a job with a game studio, or a career in interactive media? Learn how to identify the styles in game development curricula and the tools to help you find the best education for more than a job, but a lifetime’s work in the gaming industry.

Is there anything else you think we [PAX staff] should know?
This lecture will provide tools and perspective for finding the right curriculum for the student. This entails a two part approach. First, a student needs to start figuring out what direction he or she wants to take. The second part is knowing what information to extract from potential institutions. From this foundation, attendants can make solid decisions on which schools are applicable to their educational goals. Potential undergraduate, graduate, and transfer students will all find this lecture helpful.

I include my credentials to represent my own personal expertise, but it does not illustrate endorsement by any current or former employers.

Credentials of Highlight:
* First recipient of a Bachelor of Fine Arts in New Media at Emerson College.
Created the first BFA New Media curriculum at Emerson College, Boston.
* Emerson College, Enrollment & Student Affairs
Created tools and content related to admissions and enrollment for duties related to being an admission counselor.

For more information about me, visit http://segonmedia.com/

Finding an Education in Interactive Media

Since my appearance on Boing Boing Video┬╣ I’ve been giving a lot more thought about how someone can find the right resources and tools to formulate a curriculum and career in video games. Frankly, it’s not very good. There are an assortment of issues that lead to a drought of resources in deciding an educational path. While the issue is more complicated, I’ve narrowed down the tag line to this statement:

Do you want a job or a career?

A lot of the talk and guidance about video game education is rooted in getting a job with a studio. Yes, being employed is apart of a career and one seeks an education to become employable. I’m not questioning this aspect. What concerns me is the debate is geared towards getting that one job. There isn’t talk about the sustainability for one to adapt though their life time in interactive media. Simply training for getting hired out of college, not as a practitioner of the field.

Part of this comes from the current venues of advice one can seek. Naturally one would look towards the veterans in the industry as cues for being successful. While this advice is very valuable, the material from them seems more about getting the job rather than forming a career. The veterans of this industry created careers in a way that can’t be duplicated; The industry is created now. The experiences of our veterans can’t be duplicated. I wish there were more long-term advice applicable to today, but right now one has to extrapolate how the experience of the vets can be made in current times, and how it can’t. This kind of nuance isn’t realized by a potential applicant from high school, nor is anyone pointing this out. The debate is stuck at ‘get a job,’ not ‘make a living.’

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IP Rights in Academics

This week, Gamasutra sparked up the debate of IP rights with students in interactive media programs. The article “Controversy In The Classroom: Whose IP Is It Anyway?” starts the debate, but as you can see from the comments there is much more that needs to be discussed. In the Gamasutra article, the statement from the president and co-founder of DigiPen in Washington, Claude Comair:

“We are not here to compete with the games industry,” he says. “We are not here for people to come and make a game in a less-expensive manner utilizing equipment and software that has student licenses.”

“Just as importantly, we are not equipped to properly firewall our projects in the sense that we really don’t know legally speaking how many or which students created which games. We don’t know whether they received input from other students who have not been credited.”

This statement really rubbed me the wrong way on a few levels. The academic institution is skipping an extremely teachable moment by not incorporating IP rights and attribution of work. Will mistakes be made? Very much so. This is an educational institution and mistakes are part of the learning process. Avoiding the issue doesn’t make the issue go away, only defred for the student post-graduation. I can’t see how a student can be prepared to work in a field of intellectual property without understanding the basic law and practice of IP.

The counterpoint is the position is schools should teach the use and practice of tools and the IP should be left for law students. While I’m not claiming that each student should be prepared for entering a pre-law program, IP practice is the core integral part of being a professional artist. You don’t have to fully agree with the practices, but knowing the basics of how business is conducted seperates the professionals from the hobbyists. By denying students how to run the business, DigiPen seems limit student’s ability to become involved with being their own independent participants of this art form. The DigiPen curriculum seems to make worker bees for the game industry, rather than practicianers of interactive entertainment.

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