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Students Flock To GMU For a Degree In Video Game Design 225

Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that officials at George Mason University are quickly finding out that they have vastly underestimated interest in the school's new bachelor's degree in video game design. 'We've been overwhelmed,' says Scott M. Martin, assistant dean for technology, research, and advancement at GMU. 'Our anticipated enrollment for the fall is 500 percent higher than we expected.' George Mason first offered the program last fall, when officials anticipated that it would enroll about 30 full-time students, but currently 200 students are enrolled and that number is increasing. Course titles under the program include 'History of Computer Game Design,' while other courses focus on computer programming, digital arts, and graphics and motion capture. Although many colleges offer courses and degrees in computer gaming in the United States, GMU offers the only four-year program in the DC area, an important market for gaming because serious games — those used to train military and special operations, doctors, and others who use simulators — are becoming a market force in the region because of the proximity to federal government centers."
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Students Flock To GMU For a Degree In Video Game Design

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  • by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:51PM (#32034858)

    There can't possibly be that many job openings in this field. This is about as silly as Unv Florida cranking out tons of degrees in marine biology when the reality is that there are less than 1000 of these specialty jobs in the US.

  • by Conchobair ( 1648793 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:56PM (#32034952)
    This post made me think of Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street, the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. He has a PhD in Marine Science from the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:57PM (#32034964)

    Is anyone getting flashbacks of that Westwood College advertisement where the two losers are "working" at a video game production house, and explain to their boss that they need to "tighten up the graphics on Level 3?" (They've taken down the copy on YouTube, otherwise I'd post a link.)

    I wonder if this is going to be similar to what happened in the late 90s in the field of systems administration. During the dotcom run-up, salaries went pretty high for anyone who had even the slightest clue about computers. TONS of places were pumping out certified but unqualified network and systems admins, and we're still dealing with a lot of them now. Now given that this is an actual college, and they get a real degree out of the deal, it might not be as bad. And I'm sure the video game houses appreciate at least a minimal amount of training. From what I've heard, there are legions and legions of folks who don't mind the low pay and 100 hour work weeks just so they can say they design video games for a living. Providing a games publisher with a steady stream of newbies who are qualified beyond, "I like video games and want to be involved in "the business." (Replace video games with computers, and you get what happened during the dotcom boom.

  • Tell you about it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:59PM (#32034990)

    He's not even kidding. I am a graduate of Full Sail's Game Dev program; alumni of one of the first classes through their BS program (which was one of the first Game Dev BS programs).

    My class started with 80 students and ended with 20. They do find out eventually! (Perhaps $20,000-$40,000 later.)

  • Re:Tell me about it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:01PM (#32035014) Journal

    I was the only one who went in realizing that programming in C++ was nothing like playing Halo 3, and also the only one who came out understanding how games like that are written in C++. (Halo 3 I'm not exactly sure, but Half Life 2 is) Funny how that works.

    It's true, I went into computer programming FOR game design because my city there was nothing close to Game design. However, I know that I'm no artist, so I don't want to get into the whole character creation and animation. I know I want to be working with either DirectX or OpenGL and the Engine code. So really it worked out nicely.

    First semester about half the class also was in it to help do games. Second semester a few people dropped out, the Java lessons killed them. We used Eclipse so I found it easy, but I guess a few people don't like logic puzzles. By the Second year - all of those game programmers except for me and one other had dropped out. They hated Multi-threading and Socket networking. I loved that stuff. The thing that REALLY drove them off, was relational databases. SQL is so easy to learn, I could probably educate half my friends how to use MySQL or Oracle in like 3 one hour sessons, but you won't find it interesting unless you have a use for it. Being big on the MMO scene, I instantly saw how a relational database could be extremely useful in a game like WoW.

    Now I'm out and working in the real world. I won't get hired by EA right out of college though I don't know if I'd want to be. A lot of teenagers dream of getting on board with EA or Microsoft Games, but in reality those bigger companies give the new guys the shit jobs while the senior guys do the fun stuff. I know a guy who graduated from the art College in town with a degree in Animation, and he got hired by EA pretty much instantly. What did he get to do? Trees! He gets to animate trees all day. I don't know if he's still doing that now, haven't talked to him since. They've probably turned him into a zombie.

    Before I had any college experience though, there was an opening at Bioware, before they released Mass Effect - so pretty much just before they got as famous as they are now. I really wanted to apply but they stated they wanted some experience before taking someone on for the position (I believe it was lead level designer). Shucks.

    So now in my spare time I work on a portfolio. I've got a few maps I've created in Hammer for HL2 Deathmatch, some Maps I've done in Unreal for Unreal Tournament. A few flash games to show some of that skill. Working on a game in the Source Engine to show some skills and Idea's I've got floating around. When I'm done, I'll see who wants me for what price. Ideally, I'd like to get in at Lucasarts so they can start making GOOD games again, like I STILL play Xwing vs Tie Fighter... So we'll see how that goes.

  • Re:No limits? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by timothy ( 36799 ) * Works for Slashdot on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:12PM (#32035150) Journal

    There are trade-offs; colleges don't want to pay for more faculty / facilities than they believe they'll have the enrollment to support (and therefore justify), but when there's huge demand, they'll try to adapt to it.

    Like anything else in which there's even a partial free market :) Milk, yoga lessons, vacations to Brazil ...

    GMU, btw, is a state school (biggest university by enrollment in the state of Virginia), which means it's fairly cheap for people from Virginia, and cheaper than typical private colleges / universities for non-residents as well.

    I'd heard of it, but knew nothing about it really until a few years ago -- now I'm familiar at least with the names of many of their excellent (libertarian leaning) economics professors, through the podcast called EconTalk (



  • Re:Tell me about it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by silverbax ( 452214 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @03:28PM (#32035424)

    I wish you the best but you are going to almost 100% certainly going to take some crap jobs before you get a good job. Take what you can get, start learning and building your experience.

  • by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @04:03PM (#32035974)

    for these kids to realize that the "glamorous" lifestyle of the video game designer is a lie. More like death marches galore, low pay, and shady companies.

    Does it have to be? With the internet as the infinitely powerful distribution mechanism, the big distributors pissing everyone off with their DRM, the market for small indie games is bound to get bigger. Sure, the failures will fail, but there's plenty of room for those willing to go the distance to create games, put them out there and make enough of a profit to pay the rent, put food on the table and maybe hire a professional artist to increase sales on the next title.

  • Re:Tell me about it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OldSoldier ( 168889 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @05:36PM (#32037368)

    In a way this supports a belief I've had for a while. Specifically, people can only aspire to become something that they know about. And they only know about things they see in the media (or immediate family). What's discussed in the media? Sports stars, singers/musicians, actors, doctors and lawyers (tv dramas), politicians, wall street traders, and of course video games hence video game programmers.

    Kids in the 70s had the space program to inspire them and the uptick in engineering/science degrees seemed to bear that out.

    I don't see a rush to get a video game degree as a sign of interest in that per-se but instead see it as the most visible opportunity for people with that mindset. Maybe if Big Bang Theory had a larger tv audience?

  • by elnyka ( 803306 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @07:17PM (#32038486) Homepage

    I wish I could have just gotten 4 years of that newbie experience under my belt instead of spending it on a degree who's only real worth today is to get you that newbie job to begin with.

    Sorry to hear that, but we get what we put in. The only way to get some expertise under the belt before graduation is by doing internships if possible, or work in computer labs as a second option. And by working in computer labs I don't mean showing students how to eject the CD drive but doing actual administration and setup (and luckily sysadmin programming/scripting.) The other option is to get an AA/AS degree, then get a job (even if only a data entry/report generating one) while doing the remaining junior and senior year at a 4-year college. With that path, it is almost certain to accumulate 1-2 years of programming experience...

    ... but most importantly, it allows to create professional networks.

    Some anecdotal stories for shits and giggles... When I was in community college, I did everything I could to get a "computer" job. I was working at Home Depot at the time (selling floor/tile stuff and driving forklifts). I pestered management to gave me a job at the store data center (where they ran these old mini-computers and stuff.) Management tried, but there was never an opening. Later I got a part-time job at the computer lab, setting up software while tutoring and assisting teaching intro-to-micro courses, Pascal, Assembly, C and DBase. First connection was my Pascal professor with whom I got another part-time job doing Visual Basic programming... now I'm programming while getting paid!!!!

    Next connection came from another professor with whom I was taking Delphi and Expert Systems programming. Through his class I get to meet a senior developer at one large insurance firm in my city (one of the largest in the country at the time). When I got my AA, he took me under his wing and got a job developing applications with FoxPro (we were doing the transition from procedural to object-oriented programming back then.) I did that while doing my junior and senior year in CS. On my last year, through another connection, I got a part-time job at the computer science department, doing Unix administration. I left my full-time FoxPro job to concentrate on the last 6 months of my senior year while working on that Unix admin job.

    I graduated with my BS degree (and 3 years of programming experience already). Through another connection I made with school and work, I got a research job at a research center (distributed systems, formal methods and security were the focus of research). So as I'm plowing my way through the MS program and doing a lot of really good shit in C and C++, network protocol programming, distributed systems and the like, we started working with Java and CORBA...

    and alas, through yet, another connection with the research center, I met a group of developers funding a start-up company that was heavy on Java and CORBA. Off I went to my full-time Java development job. 3 years of programming experience and 2 years of research with immediate industrial application sponsored by people doing that for a living. Just a year and a half after graduating with a BS degree and right in the middle of my masters.

    After that job, I've had many others, many of them thank exactly for the type of research I did (performance evaluation of distributed authentication systems to be precise.) From SQL and relational database theory to software engineering to network programing to algorithm/complexity theory, each had helped me in a real way in the real world.

    My advice to people studying CS - work on your connections and pursue internships/college lab jobs. Many of my friends from college got really sweet jobs right off the bat because they did internships. We get from college what we put in.

    Sure I learned some things doing my CS degree, but most of it could have been learned just as well

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen