Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blogging on Applied Game Design

In addition to this blog, Brenda has given me the ability to post on the Applied Game Design blog, so I will occasionally make posts over there about the theory and practice of game design.

Why not just post here? I want this blog to remain a resource for students and educators about teaching game design, and my own rantings on how to actually make better games are best done elsewhere.

Any post over there by 'ai864' is me. I've already made my first post.

I will still be writing here about teaching game design, of course.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Theory of Fun back in print!

Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design has been out of print for a few years, making it obnoxiously difficult for anyone to actually buy it for less than $200 or so.

Happily, it is now back in print for about $15.

I suspect a lot of teachers will suddenly be adding another book to their required texts next term...

Global Game Jam article on Gamasutra

For those of you who are wondering what was going on during the Global Game Jam, Stephen Jacobs wrote up a fantastic blow-by-blow account of the action. His article is on Gamasutra.

I'm even quoted a few times in the article.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sometimes, I teach a little too well...

The other day, I met some people who are thinking of hiring a game designer, I mention that I'm available for contract work.

One of my students who was present stepped in front of me and mentioned that he's also available, and cheaper to hire than me.

I know that I always say to pay attention, be observant, be ready to pounce on an opportunity... and apparently some of them actually listen. I'm thinking that, in the long run, this is probably a good thing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Summer Internships

The question was recently raised on the IGDA Game Educators mailing list: how can students find summer internships in games? If you're a student, this is probably on your mind; if you're a professor, students will probably ask you. I posted a response there, but I thought it's worth saying here.

First, let me say that internships in the game industry are rare. This is not about game companies being mean, or hating students. It's because game projects typically take longer than a summer, and development teams don't particularly like it when a key project member leaves in mid-project. It also takes people time to ramp up, which means just around the time the intern is finally able to contribute something to the team, they leave. Also, interns take a lot of management time that a typically-overworked producer does not have, so many studios decide that it's just not worth it.

This is not to say that internships don't exist, merely that the companies that offer them tend to be low-key about it (lest they be flooded with tens of thousands of resumes from eager college students). That means they aren't advertising, so you have to find them other ways (see below).

My advice to students seeking summer employment:

First, do your homework. Research a lot of game companies, go to their corporate websites and see if they have internship programs. Best bets are local companies, since realistically you aren't going to get housing or relocation expenses (some companies won't even consider you for an internship unless you live in the area). Be willing to look at lesser-known companies (not just the big names that you drool over), and look in related fields like serious games -- fewer students are looking there, so there's less competition.

How do you find local developers? First, check GameDevMap. Second, check if there's a local IGDA chapter. Third, check Google with a search string that implies game developers in your local area. Fourth, check with your school's career services office... but you probably won't find anything there that you couldn't have found on your own, which is why I list it last.

Some "internships" may not be listed as such; rather, they may be called "QA" positions that just happen to span the summer term.

If you can't find anything in games, consider a related industry. Programmers can do a programming internship at any software company and still gain valuable experience. Artists could work in fields like advertising or industrial design.

If you absolutely can't find any paid work, finances permitting, "hire" yourself full-time to work on your own game projects! Force yourself to work 40+ hours per week on your own game, as if you were at a full-time job. (This works even better if you have some friends you can team up with.) Keep your scope small, so that your projects are achievable. The point here isn't to "start a game company" or "make a great game and sell it" -- the point is to get valuable experience making games. If your project sucks, that's fine, as long as you learned something from the process. If your project does end up being awesome, enter it in the IGF student showcase, which is just as juicy a resume bullet-point as an internship (if you win).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Does "online" mean "automated"?

It seems to me that every school that offers online courses does things a bit differently. For the classes that I teach online, I try to have as much interactivity as I have time for. I'll post on discussion boards, I host virtual "office hours" through an online chat program, and I send out regular emails with my own personal spin on the topic. I also offer feedback through grading papers, even if it takes me longer.

I realized today that in theory, the entire thing could be automated:
  • The course content is all online, so there's no reason why I need to add anything to it. Let the students read it on their own without the professor offering any extra commentary.
  • The discussion boards are for students to interact with each other, not the professor. When "participation" is one of the grades of the course, there are tools where you can get post counts, average length of post, and all kinds of usage stats without ever having to actually, you know, read what one of those student people is actually saying.
  • Papers can't be automated easily, but if you design the course you could go light on those assignments and heavy on multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes which can be graded by a computer system.
  • Instead of holding regular "office hours", simply post your phone number and let students call if they need help with anything. You know they never will, whether it be from feelings of politeness or intimidation.

Not that I would ever teach this way, mind you. I don't think it's really teaching if I'm not involved, it's more like a long, drawn-out certification process.

On the other hand, it's easy to "teach" a class this way, so I'm sure there are people out there who do it like that. Some might just be overwhelmed with other things in life so they fall back on something easy. Others might be greedy and want extra pay for next to no effort. Still others might think this is what online classes are supposed to be, that once you get a computer involved it somehow means humans should be removed from the equation.

I suppose the lesson here for students is: buyer beware. Make sure that you're getting your money's worth when signing up for an online class, and make sure you know what kind of instruction and personalized attention you can expect. If all you're looking for is a few quick credit hours without having to leave your dorm room that's one thing, but if you're actually looking for an education then do your due diligence. (Put at least as much effort into shopping for a class as you might into getting a high-end stereo system for your dorm, since that's probably about what you're paying.)

Interestingly, I think there's a parallel here with outsourcing in the game industry, in that many companies that think "outsourcing" really want the thing they're outsourcing to be automated (and they find out to their chagrin that game development is not so easy a process to automate).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What is the teacher's most valuable IP?

I have an ongoing discussion with several colleagues about the basic question of where a teacher's value lies. This is particularly important in a field like game design, where a new professor is likely going to be the only one in the department with any game-related expertise and will therefore be doing some curriculum development, some course content development, and of course the actual teaching.

There seem to be two schools of thought with respect to this.

The first model, I'll call "value in output." The professor is a machine that converts money and coffee into curriculum and course materials. The real value is in these secrets of the field that the professor distills into small documents like lesson plans and curriculum documents. This is valuable information that must be protected. You can tell the schools that think this way because they have something in their contracts that makes sure the school gets IP ownership of the professor's work, or (at the very least) they would be very much against a professor releasing this material to the public, or taking it to another school.

The second model, I'll call "value in person." The idea is that it is the professor who is valuable, not the work. A skilled professor can always create more classes, revise the curriculum or what have you, and it is therefore the human being that has value. An analogy would be valuing the goose more than the golden eggs. You can tell the schools that fall into this category by their willingness to release their course content online, give their professors more control over their own work output, and are generally happy to just sit back and do nothing as long as the profs are bringing glory to the school.

We have this in the game industry, too. Where is the value in a game: the IP, the code base, or the development team? Depending on a publisher's viewpoint, they will treat their developers very differently.

If you're a teacher or a developer, think for a moment about how your school (or your publisher) sees you and your contributions. Is there more focus on your work output, or your ongoing ability to produce that output? Which view is superior? If the answer is "it depends," what does it depend on?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Speaking Schedule

Yesterday, I was in Savannah giving a presentation with Brenda at SCAD to other educators about the use of games as a teaching tool. It was intended as a combination of my earlier Origins presentations and our Game Design Improv event.

I learned something interesting here: when talking about games in education, I take for granted that most of the time I'm talking to educators who already play games heavily (or teach game development), so the use of games in the classroom is not a hard sell. In this case I was speaking with professors from art history, photography, audio, film, media studies, and several other fields that are not directly related to games. We spent a lot of time discussing whether games were worthwhile for classroom use at all, and if so in what situations. It was a wonderful discussion that really challenged us all, and it's a discussion I'm not used to having. I was also impressed by the high degree of game literacy from these professors who were not gamers; participants referenced a number of game industry personalities and important games. Apparently it's not just game designers who study other media; they're paying attention to us, also.

Coming up, I've got a few speaking engagements. I'm speaking at GDC, both times during the Education Summit. I speak twice: I'm doing the next iteration of Game Design Improv with Brenda, and also speaking with Susan Gold and Gorm Lai about the results of the Global Game Jam.

The month after that, I'll be at GDX (here's last year's site, the new one isn't up yet), speaking about the relationships between art history and game design -- basically, why game designers should take at least one art history class, and why they should pay attention. (Short answer: because we may feel like games are a new medium and we're blazing new trails, but an awful lot of what we're doing with games-as-art is stuff that the art world already addressed hundreds of years ago, and we need to understand this so we don't keep reinventing the wheel.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Running for IGDA Board

The IGDA elections are underway, with four board seats open. I've thrown my hat into the ring.

If my personal statement sounds like something that resonates with you, I'd appreciate your vote. And if you're not a member of the IGDA... well, this is as good an excuse as any to join.

Thanks for your support.