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Gaming Booms With Alumni

PC Game Design Lucrative Business for MICA Alumni, Students

Posted 07.15.10 by Juxtapositions Editors

A student creates gaming imagery during a summer intensive Game Design course.

With revenues of more than $10 billion a year, the PC game software industry is being added to the list of those that have transformed the lives of Americans over the past century. Software sales have quadrupled since the mid-1990s because of a wide and diverse audience of "gamers," with 68% of American households playing computer or video games. This growing audience is fueling the expansion of the industry. With a significant number of game developers in the Baltimore-Washington region--among the highest concentration of game-related companies outside of the West Coast--that expansion is bringing a number of opportunities to MICA.

For a number of alumni, the burgeoning industry has meant professional success along with an ability to give back to current MICA students. One such alum is David Inscore '95, co-founder of Big Huge Games, a cutting-edge video game studio in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

"I was so fortunate to come out of MICA in the mid-1990s when the games really started to take off," Inscore explained. "Being able to pass that opportunity on to other MICA students is just one of the things that drives me now."

Greg Foertsch '95, an original employee at Hunt Valley's Firaxis Games, one of the world's premier development studios, which employs 22 MICA alumni, has done the same. When he became internship coordinator for the firm, he reached out to MICA, offering real-world opportunities to a number of students including Taylor Fischer '10. Fischer, who was hired at ZeniMax Online Studios upon her graduation from the College, initially ventured into the gaming field after an internship at Firaxis.

"When I started at MICA, I didn't realize there was this game development community right here in Baltimore," Fischer said. "It's been a huge asset in developing my career. I just graduated in May with a BFA in illustration, and as a student and now as a recent graduate, I've been able to work at three major studios. I interned at Firaxis and did contract work at Big Huge Games as a student, and I turned that experience into a career at ZeniMax."

The game industry, Fischer explained, has allowed her to live a "creative life" without financial worries.

"Upon entering MICA, I wanted to be a fine artist, to work in a studio. Then I found game work classes and character development courses, and things took off. Some people might think that I sacrificed creativity for a job, but what my job at ZeniMax does is allow me to devote all of my time to artwork." Referring to herself an "office artist," Fischer continued, "I have a stereotypical office-centered life in that I get up in the morning, get my coffee, go to work, go home, make dinner ... but in between getting coffee and making dinner, even though I'm in an office, all I get to do is make art all day long."

Whitney Sherman, former chair of MICA's Illustration Department who is launching the MFA in Illustration Practice in 2011, has seen growth in the number of students pursuing gaming careers and calls the intersection of gaming and illustration "a good fit."

"Storytelling, good drawing skills, and the art of conceiving ideas are important to the gaming field, and these skills are imbedded in MICA's illustration department," Sherman said. "Several of our alumni have found they have transferrable skills that allow access to positions at top area companies."

For interaction design and art (IxDA) faculty, game playing and the process of game development is a perfect match for their medium. Jason Corace, a full-time faculty member who teaches game theory, noted that many of his students come to MICA with extensive experience with games, a fact that gives him a valuable opportunity in the classroom.

"My students understand games. Some have actually already made them before taking my class. They know when a game is good and when one doesn't work," he explained. "This helps them in IxDA because interaction design and art is about creating systems that interact with people. Games model real world systems. Games are a simplification of the world and also represent the complexities of the world, so they are a great entry point to other system-based, interactive design."

The College has been able to expand upon its gaming course offerings by taking advantage of the array of nearby game studios and the growing pool of alumni working in the field. As the industry has grown, some alumni, such Inscore and Foertsch, have worked with MICA to explore curricula that prepares students for top positions in the industry. Many have acted as adjunct faculty as well.

The ongoing prospects for the industry bode well for MICA students interested in careers in gaming.

"The industry generates billions of dollars. It's a big business. Games aren't made by a couple of guys programming in the garage--it's a collaborative process with a huge number of employees," Inscore said. "I sometimes have to step back and just pinch myself because I have a wonderful career and love what I do. There's a ton of opportunity in this industry. Big Huge Games is hiring. There's a bright future ahead."

Foertsch added, "Artists have an excellent track record in the industry. There's a perception that we're technicians, but the focus is on really good art. If you're not a good artist, all the tech skills in the world won't help you."

And MICA students who choose to pursue careers outside the industry can use their experience in game development in multiple fields.

"Digital media is changing our culture, and artists need to have a voice in these forms we use every day" Corace said. "A student who designs a computer game in class might not go on to a gaming career, but he or she can use game development skills to create things that will be out in the community and make it better-interactive art that entertains or solves problems, interactive tools for education or for research, for example, or museum installations that bring the public closer to art."

Photo caption: A student creates gaming imagery during a summer intensive Game Design course.