Thursday, August 17, 2006

Culture Shock: Mommy, Where Does Funding Come From?

In the game industry, funding models are pretty straightforward. If you're a third-party developer, you get your original game project as finished as your startup funds permit and then shop it around to publishers; or you respond to publisher RFP's. If you're established enough, publishers come to you instead. Wash, rinse, repeat until one of two things happen: you go too long without getting a new contract and you go out of business; or you generate a massive hit that gives you royalties, letting you self-fund your next project.

In academia, things are different because there are so many funding sources. For public institutions, you have state (and maybe federal) funds. There's alumni donors. There's tuition, of course. Then you've got grant funding from large organizations (e.g. NIH, DoD, NSF -- at least in the States), and from private foundations. Oh, and there's the occasional research project that gets commercialized and generates revenue to the school through royalties. And it's some combination of all of these that pay your salary as a teacher.

To complicate things further, these sources don't exist in a vacuum; they affect each other. For example, you get more state funds if you increase your enrollment, which also increases your tuition revenue (but also your costs to support the extra students, which may wipe out your gains). You also get more state funds (at least here in Ohio) based on the number of patents you generate, which also means increased commercial revenue. You increase alumni donorship by getting your university in the news because you just published some really important piece of research, which may or may not have been funded by grants. Deciding where to put your resources and where to chase additional funding is a huge balancing act.

And that's all ignoring university athletics; I don't even want to think about the complexities of that.

Back when I was a student, I thought that the whole point of universities was to teach their students. But then I also thought that the point of working at a game company is to make the kinds of games you want to play yourself. In both cases that may be the Dream, but everyone has to deal with the reality of where their next paycheck is coming from, first.

No comments: