So many decades later, video games that cost millions of dollars to develop and produce were branded as AAA - and a handful of years later still, the definition of AAA has transformed once again.
The paradigm has shifted with the success of social networks and wildly successful platforms like the Apple iPhone. Now, developers have the potential to create a simple yet compelling game - in their cost-free spare time - for iPhone, Facebook, or even Club Penguin, resulting in millions of users paying $1-5 dollars for anything from playing the game to purchasing downloadable content.
Fewer than 25% of all video game developers ship successful titles. Fewer developers get to work on AAA titles and even fewer
developers get to choose the platform, genre, or title on which they
Common customers - from which the games
industry profits most - will not be able to purchase every game, nor
will those customers be interested in every game being advertised to
them. Following popular themes through a well-crafted product
generally nets a reasonable profit, but personal taste is an
unpredictable product killer.
Game developers - just like their more traditional software development counterparts - have more often than not shipped games that are certified as complete and error free, but which are not, in fact, error or bug free. Bugs, of course, show up in all shapes and sizes, but the bugs that are most noticeable are the bugs you can actually see, even if there is a mechanism underneath the hood of the video game vehicle causing the problem.
The flexibility of customer taste is
directly controlled by the level of feature completion and
refinement a product can display - whether video games, automobiles,
or homes. While game developers - from every discipline - are
empowered to manipulate customer flexibility from concept to
completion of their products, it has historically been the game
artist who is best positioned to generate the most customer
It was the artist who communicated - verbally and visually - with the designer and the writer to develop the core product vision for the rest of the development team. It was the artist who communicated - verbally and visually - with the programmer to determine in what combination art and code assets needed to function. It was the artist who communicated - verbally and visually - with the designer and the programmer to make sure each of them was receiving the placeholder or final art assets they needed to perform their own focused tasks. It was the artist who collaborated with the sound engineer to ensure the musical score and sound effects matched the on-screen visuals.
Artists were the original jacks
of all trade. While programmers - decades ago - used to share art
creation responsibilities on extremely small development teams, they
have effectively been banned from any such task except for proofs of
concept. Fewer and fewer game designers, in fact, are joining the
games industry with any art or visual communication background these days. This only
confirms the importance of the artist to the success of design and
programming, and vice versa, in the game development process.
"Fanboys" beware - lest your
lofty interpretation of video game development becomes shattered, leaving
you with even more emotional scarring than any mature-rated video
game could ever produce. Video game development is fun,
professionally challenging, socially engaging, and extremely hard
A college degree for any subject matter is ideally - and at the very least - worth the paper upon which it is printed. Such value has never been achieved without in-depth teacher / student collaboration - especially regarding the creative arts.
Teachers are responsible for providing professional training of well-developed course materials through finely tuned communication skills and carefully measured compassion - like any good mentor preparing a pupil for the real world. Students are responsible for providing a healthy dose of humility and an unbridled willingness to learn course materials.
Participation in a game development degree program is as much about mastering the current tools of the trade as it is about mastering how to succeed in all possible game development scenarios - from local and outsource settings, in the trenches of production, atop the towers of leadership, and from concept to completion.
Game development instructors should utilize every ounce of their industry experience to ensure that every student in their program receives the robust game development education for which they are paying. Easier said than done - as long as everyone involved buys into this elementary concept.
I am a graduate of California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the original Disney school known for churning out a large number of very talented and successful professionals who span all areas of creativity and creative entertainment - including acting, animation, dance, directing, music, photography, CGI, visual communication, and writing. CalArts, however - like any other private art school - is not infallible.
It takes two to tango, and CalArts - no matter how great its lineage - has never done it alone. Some of the best art schools have - at most - an "experience" to offer students.
This experience should reasonably include well-planned training - on an individual and collaborative assignment level - with an in-depth exchange of knowledge from department to department, instructor to student, and student to student.
The experience should ideally also include collaborative assignments that draw upon other departments and even other competing schools through carefully planned project cooperatives. Some existing creative technical schools currently utilize assignments that introduce students to various degrees of managerial and production responsibility, but these cooperatives would be different. They would challenge different creative groups - each with unique talents, production methods, and communication styles - to pair up just like a company and a remote outsource agency. The students - by design - would be strongly encouraged to pool their available resources, find a common ground, and succeed with their project goals . . . just like in real life, with real projects, and real business.
Contrary to popular belief, it is much harder to manage the talented resources and coordinate the creative tasks that comprise entertainment software than it is to display the resultant and subjective creativity within entertainment software. The same can be said for the emotional conflict an artist tends to go through when required to transform a beautiful-but-personal creation into a slick, mass market, commercial product.
The sooner students can learn - through these departmental, interdepartmental, and school co-op projects - to successfully combine the joy of creative "ownership" with the sometimes harsh reality of creative management (and the need to pay the bills), the better prepared they will be to succeed in the face of any development and production challenges.
Arranged and course-credited internships that follow successful projects before and after graduation are also expected - with respect to the myriad of games industry contacts expected of department chairs, faculty, and any public relations officers.
Many instructors can educate students on how to use a tool, but very few instructors can educate students on how to avoid becoming a tool. Understanding the tools of the game development trade is not enough to prevent a student-turned-developer from being played by their colleagues and companies alike in an aggressive industry. Instructors should train students on how to develop the core skills required to wear the entire tool belt - for the moment they need to bolt from being screwed.
It is also up to the student to meet the instructor half way towards such a well-rounded focus. The vast majority of college students - traditional or not - enter their higher education opportunity with little thought towards the primary and secondary skills they wish to achieve upon their exit. Students who wish to get a taste of everything involved in their career-of-choice will be ripe and ready for refinement from an equally encouraged instructor.
Students, however, who join a game development degree program with the goal of just pursuing more of what they know - just creating concept art, just designing player mechanics, or just programming user interface engines - will be completely missing the point of the ever-increasing dedication it takes to enter, remain, and succeed in the games industry.
The bigger the games industry becomes - albeit through growth in outsource agencies - the fewer chairs will be available when the music stops.
Instructors and students - especially in an art school setting - must be on the same mission with the same level of commitment towards developing solid career skills within the "experience."
Instructors (with reasonable access to resources and full procedural support from their administration) and students share in the responsibility of determining whether or not the experience is a Full Sail or a Full Sale. You get what you pay for, and such a valuable collaboration will help ensure that game development degree programs give as good as they get.