Academic Day @ GDC 2012

GDC continues to roll on today, but before it does I wanted to post a few quick updates about day one of the conference. For many the first “real” day of GDC is Wednesday, however, for those interested in games as solutions to institutional problems and games in education today was quite interesting. I jumped back and forth between the Game IT summit, which was hosted by Ben Sawyer, Jane McGonigal, and Ian Bogost, and the Game Education summit. Both featured academically oriented presentations.

Unity is a key – Of all the projects I saw today the best looking ones were produced in a fairly short amount of time using unity. This may seem fairly obvious, but I think some developers (myself included) have hesitated to make the switch. After seeing some of the projects that were done in unity in a matter of weeks and interviewing a few people who are using it in student development I am convinced that Unity is the best platform for academic development.

Learn to Code – So you want to be a game scholar? In the last few months I have heard various deans and heads of department lament on the lack of researchers who can both make and study games. Even if you can only tinker around by creating mods with a scripting engine, having the ability to write code seems to be important for landing an academic job in the coming years. Even in the humanities there were discussions about the role of game production in the tenure process.

The Economics of Attention – Zoran Popović of the University of Washington and part of the Foldit project commented on how difficult it is to make fun games that actually attract players. While it may seem like a simple comment, I think it was an astute observations given the tendency of conference speakers to act as if players are a dime a dozen and quite simple to attract to games. This applies both for games that attempt to crowd source hard problems (foldit, galaxyZoo) as well as games that are attempting to gather players for research purposes. Games have a lot of potential, but attracting players becomes more difficult each day as the industry becomes more sophisticated and the hand-held/online market saturates.

The Academy – It still seems like game design programs at many academic institutions are struggling to get of the ground. A few programs seem to have figured out that the key lies in teaching using project based teams and allowing flexibility to instructors, but I think that many institutions are still stuck in the old lecture model. For students to learn games they have to make them and games are made in flexible workspaces by teams of individuals. In addition, as Elena Bertozzi of Long Island University noted, when making anything in a university students and instructors need to be aware of the intellectual property rights that go along with building games in an academic setting. In many cases without lawyering the university owns everything. Hence, commercialization of a thesis project becomes unprofitable for the individual and future endeavors of the same nature risk lawsuit. Will institutions change to accommodate the property rights and teaching styles suited to these new technologies? Or will new institutions emerge to fill the gap. It is a question that is open to debate.

Well, that's it for now, but we'll have more updates soon.


Academic Day @ GDC 2012 by Travis Ross, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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