If you have ever thought about making video games probably you are wondering if it is really necessary to study something specific. Though the offer is still not broad, year by year universities all over the world are giving video games the credit they deserve. Not only masters and specializations but full degrees are available for all of us who once dreamt about developing amazing games.
To know more about students, professors and the future of video games and education, we talked with David Alonso, in charge of the Video Games Degree at ESNE in Madrid. ESNE university was born as a business school ten years ago but has evolved with the market and is now ahead of the design and development fields with Degrees and Masters about big data, graphic design, transmedia and of course, video games. And never forgetting the practical approach of its business origins.
[On Serious Games] What does a specific degree in video games offer that former design and technical degrees lack?
[David Alonso] Well, one of the most important things is that we have all profiles together in the same place. Before, programmers were never in contact with artists or designers until they started working. Not only their different profiles and backgrounds but also the way they approached game development was very different and sometimes even incompatible. Here, in their first and second years, students stay together, going over design, production and programming processes.
[ONSG] Is it really important that students learn about other areas of game development?
[David] Of course! If they understand how other departments work, they will take it into account in their own work. It helps communications, workflow and the final result. We give them more tools to think in new ideas and approaches to solve challenges.
[David] Our business school was in close contact with some different British universities with solid exchange programs. UK universities have been offering degrees in video games for a long time so for us, learning from them was the natural thing to do. We looked at what they were doing and applied it to Spain. We had meeting with lots of companies here in Spain asking what they were looking for when they hired young employees and also applied it to our program. The video games degree started in 2010 and now, with two promotions already out there showing their skills, we are very proud to keep improving year by year.
[ONSG] What is the usual video games student’s profile?
[David] Usually they are very young, undergraduates around 18 or 20 years old, and of course they all love playing video games. But there is a 30% of our students that already have a degree and would like to get a deeper insight of the video games industry. There are also people that started engineering degrees or even Architecture and decided to switch to a different speciality. What unites all of them is their knowledge about the industry and about what they like and dream to do.
[ONSG] And what do they dream to do when they finish?
[David] Around 60% want to be entrepreneurs. They are full of ideas and usually find among their colleagues the perfect team to start their own company. The synergy here is really positive. That’s the good thing about mixing all profiles together. And the other 40% dream about working for a triple A company.
[ONSG] And how does ESNE help them to be prepared for the “real world”?
[David] That part is one of our strong points here at ESNE. Because of our background as a business school the practical approach is present in all our degrees. It is important for our students to begin all their projects with business in mind and all our professors encourage this approach in their classes. Video Games, as any other industry and whether we like it or not, need to generate money, so business models and monetization are as important as quality in design and programming.
[ONSG] How does evaluation work at ESNE?
[David] We strongly believe in practice, so students have to develop video games projects from the very beginning. We encourage team work, another of the most important skills that we think they need to develop. Video Games are rarely made by a single individual, so they need to learn how to organize their teams. We encourage practice and error because it is here where they can challenge themselves in a safe environment learning how errors affect results.
[ONSG] As you know, at onseriousgames.com we are especially interested in games that not only entertain but also contribute to other areas like education or health. Could you tell us more about student’s projects related with this area?
[David] Sure! We have had several serious games projects, one of them was about video games to help Alzheimer’s patients. Another one was a gamified platform to create your own mobile casing. Another student’s project was a gamified Whatsapp were prestige was the key for success. But for sure the best example I can share is one from 2015’s graduates. It is called “Tako’s Japanese” and the idea is to help learn Japanese characters through an engaging game.
They started playing with the idea when they were freshmen and ended up presenting it as their final degree project. Developing the game and facing the real market has been the perfect way to apply what they were studying. The game won a contest in USA and numbers are very promising. Besides they also act as a publisher of other games so we are very happy about their fast success.
[ONSG] And how do you plan to keep improving ESNE’s offer?
[David] Of course we have to redesign the technical part of our degrees adapting what we teach to the industry changes. We think constant updating is key for our students, otherwise they will be learning technologies that they will never use professionally.
We also have an exchange program with universities in UK, Germany and the US and every year we organize conferences and congresses with top figures of the industry. It is vital that they have contact not only with the industry here in Spain but also with what is going all over the world. And as I said before, we want our students to be prepared for the future, so during their third year studying at ESNE, they train in real companies as part of the degree curriculum. This gives them the first real taste of what they will face outside.
Besides, we are very excited about what’s coming in 2016. We are preparing a business incubator for our students to help them during their first years after they graduate. The bigger the industry the best for us and our students, so that’s what we want to impulse.
Colleagues, insights, master classes, a safe environment to experiment with all your crazy ideas… and much more. Studying a degree, course or master in video games will probably give a huge boost to your plans to become a professional of this amazing industry that grows every year and seems to have no end. What do you think?