Video games are more than something Michigan State students play. The development of new games, and the academic study of the science is putting MSU at the head of the class nationally.
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State’s Gaming Development program continues to live up to its no. 7 national by the Princeton Review. The innovative program started in 2005 and has grown into an intricate learning experience for students interested in game design and development. The program has produced over 300 student projects since its establishment.
“I believe our high rankings are due to our faculty, facilities, curriculum and courses, connection to industry, and alumni success,” said Prof. Brian Winn, the founder and director of the MSU Game Design and Development program.
The game design program encompasses more than just a set of classes. The College of Communication Arts and Sciences provides students with the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, Game Dev Teaching Studio, interdisciplinary minor, West coast field experience, helpful faculty, Meaningful Play conference, SpartaSoft student organization, as well as a growing community of passionate alumni.
“[The GEL Lab] employs a couple dozen students over the course of the year and produces and professionally releases multiple games each year, funded by research grants and external clients like MSU Federal Credit Union,” said Jeremy Bond, MSU professor of practice in teaching game design and development. “This means that many of our students have shipped multiple titles professionally before they even graduate from college.”
The GEL Lab is useful to design innovative prototypes, techniques, and to create games for entertainment and learning. The Lab encourages the advancement of knowledge about individual and social effects of digital games on consumers. It has also created and researched over 22 games thanks to funding from organizations like the National Science Foundation, NASA, and Ford Motor Company Fund.
Room 154 of the ComArtSci building is where the Game Dev Teaching Studio plays as a host to new ideas and an accepted gaming environment. The media lab opened last year. The room consists of high-end graphics workstations, tablet-enabled monitors, a motion capture cage, state of the art sound and projection, and mobile team desks.
“Students that come into game dev typically want to work in the core game industry, working on entertainment titles,” said Winn. “We definitely prepare students for careers in this industry. But we also try to open their eye to other opportunities that the knowledge and skills afford.”
Students can absorb a variety of skills to develop their craft. Spartans are able to test their knowledge and find their niche to prepare for real-world experiences.
The program’s ranking reflects its array of opportunities to get hands-on experiences. One of those opportunities, in particular, doesn’t even take place in East Lansing, Mich. Every year game design and development students embark on a field experience trip to the West Coast.
The trip alternates between San Francisco and Los Angles every other year. During the experiences, the students visit a number of game studies, meet with development teams, and build a network.
The program’s training and education prove to give graduates a notable edge.
“Former students worked on games like Spider-Man for Insomniac,” Bond said. “Red Dead Redemption 2 for Rockstar, League of Legends for Riot, and many other top games.”
Bond believes the program success derives from its focus. MSU concentrates on the growth of the individual student. The faculty and staff work to make sure they’re teaching practical and creative skills of the game development and teamwork.
Helpful programs like Sparta Soft and the Meaningful Play Conference help students build a line of contacts and professionals to aid them post-graduation. Sparta Soft is a student organization whose goal is to get game design students in touch with real-world designers. The Meaningful Play Conference brings industry professionals and scholars together to comprehend and improve upon games to educate, persuade, entertain, and inform in meaningful ways.
As the game design industry expands, the opportunities grow indefinitely.
“Game development skills are in high demand,” Winn said. “While the size of the game industry continues to grow as games become more and more mainstream across a variety of platforms many non-entertainment industries are looking for game development skills.”