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Oct 29, 2003



One of the things I see on lists and boards and forums repeatedly is, if you want to get into games, build games.

It sounds so simplistic that it can't possibly be right, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

An artist _needs_ a portfolio to get a "serious" interview.
An animator needs a demo reel.
A programmer (sometimes) needs to show code he's written or prove he knows the standardized answers to given (business) problems.

I propose that a good way for a MBA-type that wants into games to get there would be....
...wait for it...
...build games.

No, really, stay with me on this one.
If you take an hour or two to peruse places like sourceforge, there's an astounding number of games in pre-alpha, alpha, and very early beta stages that were abandoned long ago.

Most of these get abandoned because one programmer has an idea that he wants to make the next EQ-killer. He gets a prototype or two written, gets some feedback, takes on a couple of other coders or coder wannabes and (hopefully) finds an artist.

Another prototype down the road, there's not much progress, turnover starts to take its toll, and the project dies.

I propose that this is because there's noone with a business mind keeping track, doing project management, team management, etc.
If a coder has to constantly surface to do those things, he's not coding/testing/bugfixing/whatever.
Progress slows to a crawl, and the coder gets disgusted because he can't seem to get anything done.

Tell your game-business-MBAs-to-be that there's a ton of experience to be had on places like sourceforge. There's plenty of coder talent, but what's really needed is management. Tell them to find a project that interests them and talk to the maintainer/leader. Be up front about the lack of coding/artistic ability, but also be persuasive about what a business-mind can bring to the project - PM, TM, testing-with-an-eye-to-market, contacts with other business-folk, design-suggestions-with-an-eye-to-market, etc. No, you won't be taking over. The maintainer will maintain veto-level-control on all decisions(for now).

But you will be giving him someone to whom he can offload all that unenviable MBA crap that he doesn't want to do, didn't realize would be important in his "little" project, and is likely to kill his game before it ever sees 100 eyeballs in the first place.

So again, I say, anyone that wants into games - whether a coder, an artist, or even an MBA-to-be - go (help) build games, even if most of them fail. It's experience you are after. It's things to point to in a future interview so you can show you have experience doing the things in an industry-specific manner. Successes are great, experience is better.

At least that what I think. If you've never trolled SourceForge for games, give it a shot. There's more need for MBAs there than you can imagine.


The most effective training I could imagine would be to build a game. Pick up one of the open source engines out there, or try to cut a special deal on one of the commercial engines, and build one.

The catching point would be the same one that gets a lot of independant developers: Art assets. You'd need to work in cooperation with an art class to make models or sprites, a programming class to tweak the engine, and you'd probably have to re-use a lot of stuff from one year to the next. On the other hand, the most beautiful scenes in these games always seem to get built because an artist had an idea in their head they just had to create, so you could wind up with some particularly good results that way.

Especially with MMO's, a lot of what needs to be done isn't a matter of art or coding, but instead involves a sort of "inspired data entry", lots of work entering values into spreadsheets or custom tools that will represent things inside the game.

Really, it ought to be several different efforts in parallel, different kinds of game development courses with different focuses all working on the same world from different directions, with the professors taking the role of project management.

There's just too much of it that hasn't been parameterized and simplified yet to put together a recipe for how to teach people, the proccess itself is the only adequate education.

Specifically for your Law/Business types, they could easily do the "inspired data entry" portion of the task, any reasonably bright person can learn that aspect of things. And they need to know the background of the business methods involved, the typical terms of publishing contract, how the retail pipeline operates, that kind of thing. The one part they'll really need to have is the one that gives a lot of companies trouble, all of the nits and details that go with being a small business that may have to absorb massive growth. Office space lease negotiation, arranging health care, etc.

The one thing you absolutely must avoid is the common business-school fallacy that it is not neccessary for a manager to understand the technology or processes used to produce the product. I've seen this in software both inside and outside the games business, and it has always ended in disaster. You can't separate the technology and process from the business model.



Agree with the general comments here. Being one of those MBA-types (pauses to duck thrown tomatoes), the counsel I give folks trying to get into the industry post-business school is to make sure they understand the development process. Not to the point of personally building a game, but becoming familiar with the team structure, common toolsets, etc. That being said, I have MBA-friends on the production side as well as on the business side, most of whom were willing to lower their salary expectations for the near-term in order to gain experience and credibility within the industry.


I don't think we are talking about a 'generation', I think we are talking about an 'Age'.

As far as what will take MMOGs to the next level, my guess, a Customer Service System that people enjoy.

Plenty of great games out there. That's not why most of them are failing, nor is 'game development' the fastest growing cost on MMOG Developers' balance sheet. Customer Service, on the scale of international geopolitical proportions is the next step.

As far as courses; International Political History, Economics for Developing Countries, Multi-Cultural Sociology, Public Psychology, International Finance, Interrelational Communications, City Planning and International Theology. All of these could be taught with MMOG skews and prepare the generation that will create the history of this new Age.


I'll largely agree with what's been said here. I think that people getting into this industry from a business level really need to understand the games process. I think the best managers are people that have at least some experience in the trenches doing programming, art, writing, or content creation.

There's always been a rift between the developers and the business types. The industry is full of stories about PHB's coming in with some idea that completely disrupts the development process, usually because it adds work without adjusting the schedule for the project. Sure, maybe the manager wasn't trying to kill the development process, but that's how it appears to the development team. Having practical experience in the trenches gives you some common ground with the developers. It's a lot easier to respect a manager's last minute decision if he's willing to chip in and help with the grunt work. It also helps the manager realize why landing the "Smurfs" license isn't necessarily good news to the team building a persistent world FPS.

Finally, managers need to work with their teams. Developers don't give up well-paying jobs in other industries just to be told what to do by a manager. Most people with the passion to get into the games industry want to have some creative say in the direction of the game. Expecting to impose top-down design decisions is only going to lead to failure.

What about people that want to work in the trenches? Be as multidisciplinary as possible. One of the best things to happen to me was that the Computer Science program at the college I went to (Iowa State University) was part of the Liberal Arts and Sciences. It gave me a good, rounded education while still exposing me to a lot of Engineering discipline. The Spanish Lit degree and Business minor also helped me appreciate other aspects of game development, even though I wasn't in a program that was focused on game development. Of course, I also had a lot of practical experience developing online games by working on text MUDs while I was in college. I was a bit lucky in the path I chose, because I only really realized I wanted to make games for a living when I graduated from college.

I highly recommend focusing one of the core aspects of developing games: programming/engineering, art, writing/designing, content development (level layout, sound, etc). Every game needs these at a minimum. From a practical point of view, programming and art are often the easiest to break into. Learning disciplines beyond this (such as economics, law, rhetoric, etc.) will help make you more attractive and valuable as an employee, especially on an online RPG project.

Practical experience is always a bonus. As other people have said, working on a game project shows your interest and commitment. Working on a text MUD might not be as glorious as working on a graphical project, but it gives you a grasp on the practical issues.

DuckiLama wrote, "I propose that this [failure of independent projects] is because there's noone with a business mind keeping track...."

Actually, I'd attribute it more to the fact that playing games and making games are two very separate things. A lot of people think that making games will be fun and easy because playing games is. The harsh reality of having to incorporate "fun" into the normal trials and tribulations of working on a project surprises a lot of people. Not to say that a measure of project management wouldn't help in some cases, however.

My thoughts,


I've mostly skimmed the above comments, but I wanted to put in my two cents' worth..

I'd recommend that colleges put together a new type of course, where students join as teams. If you're a business person, you need to find yourself a programmer, an artist, etc. that also wants to take the course and you join it as a group. This is probably more easily done as an collaboration between colleges.

And then, you have them make a game. Have a few standard and bland templates for those that just don't have the creative juice. If the class is going to be making RPGs, for instance, have a pathetic little storyline about Adventurer Roams World; Kills Supervillain; Yay!. The point isn't to be creative; not at the first level. The point is to make a game successfully. In a group.

After that, they could play each others' games as beta testers and critique it. This leads to a better understanding of what makes a game good, where the common faults are, why they're flaws, and some constructive ideas on how to avoid the pitfalls.

You could do this in a cycle, sprinkling it with lectures on various subjects. Collaboration between students is of utmost importance, of course.

These were just spur-of-the-moment musings, though I have been giving this some occasional thought. And as to "entering the industry" proper, all you need is 1) for a team to emerge and enter into the MMORPG market successfully and 2) recognition of the method as valid by the industry.



It's probably time for someone to try and put together a University program on synthetic worlds. I actually discussed this recently with my dean at U Mich and he seemed open to the idea. Problem is that one would need to have enought people in the university already working in the area to some degree or other. Then you form a research group. Then a program, persuading various departments and the dean to make joint hires, then you morph it into a department. Courses would run the gamut from biz end to programming to socio, legal, and economic issues. That's where the future MMORPG developers might come from.


One thing I've noticed about the current trend for university "game developer" courses: The schedule of classes indicates to me that they really are just training the next generation of cube monkeys.

So it works both ways here: the business types need a thorough grounding in development AND service (the service side of the equation always seems to be forgotten and it is easily as important, if not more so, than development), and those who wish to be in the business as developers need a good grounding in the business of the industry.

Maybe we need a Virtual World University.


Following on from Peter's point, it is difficult to assemble a full time faculty of the sort of people that you'd hope would be able to cover all aspects of this sort of program. But you can overcome this by adopting non-traditional scheduling. I act as an external adviser of a law school Masters deggree program for a school in Australia. They wanted to build up a series of very specialized programs in areas that they couldn't cover with existing faculty. So they introduced the option of intensive programs, where the teaching is covered in a week (9-5) or two weeks (9-1) and other contact and assessment occurs outside this. In this way they've been able to attract lots of visitors from the US and elsewhere, who are happy to teach for that short period. And the unexpected benefit has been greater student happiness also, as many of them are part-time, working in business, and this suits their schedule.

So, as long as you've got a few people to form a core academic faculty, I think that development of these programs is just a matter of imagination.


Jessica Mulligan>Maybe we need a Virtual World University

Hey! Conflict of interests! They'd be using "Developing Online Games" as the coursebook!



Actually, Richard, they'd be using YOUR book more than Jessica's. A university shouldn't focus on churning out little factories of VW makers; it should focus on making them better designers, and not just from the perspective of the customer.

Because once you bring it out of a pet program setting and upgrade it to a full-blown university, there's this little term called higher education that needs nurturing.


Michael Chui>Because once you bring it out of a pet program setting and upgrade it to a full-blown university, there's this little term called higher education that needs nurturing.

I teach virtual world design on a Computer Games Engineering course at Essex University. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure that the rest of the department (Electrical Engineering Science - hey, they needed the undergraduates!) are aware of this, so today I'm giving a seminar to let them know what they've bought into. I expect to leave them in a state of numbness...


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