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SMU isn't playing around with game course: program is a win-win for $25 billion industry.

For a lucky group of students, it could pay to play at Southern Methodist University (TX), which this summer began offering the first-ever graduate course in video game design. The course grew from a recognized need to train developers for the fast-growing game industry, says Peter Raad, managing director of the Guildhall at SMU and the 18-month certificate program.

Just how big is the industry? At $11 billion last year, game industry revenue in the United States surpassed that of Hollywood ($9 billion), and continues to grow. Add European and Asian firms, and worldwide revenues balloon to more than $25 billion. Or, consider that Nintendo's Super Mario 3 game made more money in a single year than the film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has made since its release in 1982.

"There are currently 30,000 people who develop games in the U.S.," says Raad. "Our analysis shows that the industry is growing by about 15 to 25 percent a year, and is recession-proof. There will be a need for about 5,000 new individuals to enter this industry each year, at an average annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000."

Digital game development is a multi-disciplinary activity that requires artists, designers, programmers, sound engineers, project managers, and others to work together. Gaming firms receive thousands of queries each year from people who want to work in the industry, but there are few standards to determine whether these individuals qualify. The SMU team saw the opportunity to create a new field of study, one that sat right at the intersection of traditional disciplines and technology. It also doesn't hurt that the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a hot spot for video game developers such as Ensemble Studios, Monkeystone, id Software, Fountainhead Entertainment, and others.

Yet if you think Ws all fun and games, consider that the same principles and skills applied to game design are increasingly used in simulations created for education and business, the scientific community, and the military. "Not only will these students be today's practitioners, they will be tomorrow's innovators," says Road. "Clearly, this is a fast-growing industry that deserves the interest of academia."

The Guildhall curriculum focuses on art creation, Lever design, and software development. Students' work is regularly reviewed by visiting industry luminaries, who offer expert opinions and valuable networking.

"It's an amalgam of the best practices of the industry with the best pedagogy that we know how to deriver at the university," says Raad. "Each graduate will have a portfolio of games that will demonstrate that the individual knows how to work in teams, knows the foundations of the business, and is capable of producing high-quality work."

Keeping one eye on the entrepreneurial front, SMU has also created a smart publishing company for student games, designed to help them learn the business and legal aspects of the field and catch the eye of the big guys. And in a sluggish economy, that could mean the difference between "bonus points" and "game over."
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Title Annotation:Update
Publication:University Business
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:498
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