MSU's Gaming Pipeline Leads Graduates to Competitive Careers

MSU Game Design and Development Program Connects with Top Game Design Studios to Guide Students from Degree to Career 

Spartans play to win, but in the nationally ranked Game Design and Development program, they don’t just play games, they create them. 

Ranked 7th in The Princeton Review for its GameDev program, Michigan State is not unfamiliar with finding success in the gaming industry. GameDev @ MSU teaches its students the skills required to accomplish their goals and surpass them in order to stand out and land careers.

Alumni of the program have gone on to create blockbuster games such as "Spider-man," "God of War" and "Red Dead Redemption 2." The Game Design and Development minor spans three colleges. Every student within the minor has opportunities to create, collaborate and showcase actual games that receive acclaim on a national level.

How do they do it?

Spartan Success: From Artist to Sony Superstar

When Brooke Johnson set out on her college career, she expected to become a marine biologist. However, after hearing about the Game Design and Development program at MSU, she followed her mother’s advice and her own passion for gaming. Now, she works for Santa Monica Studios (SMS), as a video game developer for part of Sony Interactive Entertainment.

“My whole goal when going into games as a career was to give back to the community what games had given me, and now I’m doing exactly that,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s interest in gaming came at a young age. She recalls playing Nintendo 64 with her brother and PAC-MAN on her father’s Playstation before entering elementary school. This grew into a hobby which evolved into a potential career interest. Johnson knew game design was the right path for her — MSU simply confirmed it.

During a field experience trip in Los Angeles hosted by MSU's ComArtSci, Johnson received her first introduction to SMS and several other big name game design studios. After the trip, Sony sought her out personally, based on her talent and unique interest in technical art. Johnson gladly accepted a position and moved to L.A. a month after graduation.

“I feel accepted, I feel like I’m learning, and I don’t feel like I’m in head over heels," said Johnson. "There have been many challenges thrown at me since I graduated, and I’ve tackled them head on."

Johnson’s learning didn’t just revolve around technical applications. She also took away interpersonal and leadership skills from MSU. The atmosphere of collaboration encouraged her to ask for help when she needed it and taught Johnson how to apply that discipline when teaching others. The skills have followed her into her new career.

“It’s a win win for everyone: you get to make sure you actually understand your discipline and you get to spread knowledge about your workflow and specific responsibilities. It helps the team work together more efficiently.” said Johnson.

The Details: Game Design and Development Program

At MSU, students from a variety of colleges have the opportunity to study Game Design and Development. Housed in MSU's ComArtSci, the program trains students in both the creative and technical aspects of game creation. Through the Media and Information major, students can choose the Game and Interactive Media Design track and train for competitive careers at video game design and media companies.

Brian Winn, Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab and program director, said faculty stay up to date on what’s happening in the gaming industry, bringing that insight to the classroom. He adds students benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the program.   

“We can bring people from Studio Art, Computer Science and Communication together,” said Winn. “Most universities aren’t set up to do that.”

Students study creative and technical aspects of game design, including algorithms, graphic design, technical art and data structure. They also lend a hand to help create award-winning games that receive praise, such as Plunder Panic, at events such as IndieCade and SXSW. To encourage more educational and inclusive game design, MSU also holds a Meaningful Play Conference biannually to unite game aficionados across the globe.

For game designers or developers looking to advance, graduate students can pursue MSU's masters and doctorate programs, which are also ranked top 10 in the nation. The Serious Games Certificate is offered at the graduate level, and it can be completed either online or in the classroom through hybrid courses. 

Clubs Give Spartans Ways to Explore 

Jonathan Moore, graphics engineer at Iron Galaxy Studios, credits an MSU club for pushing him to create.

While he has always had a passion for gaming, his focus was in computer science. That is, until he joined Spartasoft. Spartasoft is a student organization dedicated solely to game creation. The club operates in teams of students working to create a full fledged game. Moore started attending the club without much experience in game development, but eventually grew to become the club’s president.

“Spartasoft helped me click into wanting to go into game development,” said Moore. “I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up if I hadn’t been a part of it.”

Marie Lazar shares the sentiment, citing Spartasoft as a great way to practice the more technical skills she gained while attending MSU. The Spartan alumna originally started out with an affinity for drawing, but came to ComArtSci with a desire to create the games she enjoyed in her youth. Faculty in the GEL (Games for Entertainment and Learning) Lab made her aware of Blizzard Entertainment, suggesting she look to “World of Warcraft” for inspiration. Her advice for future students lies in the connections she made through her MSU experience.

“The friends I made through those experiences have been some of my best professional contacts since graduation. I’ve gotten internships and job offers through them that I never would have known about otherwise, and in turn I like to keep up with their careers and help them out if I can.” said Lazar.

Students at MSU join an immersive experience when they study Game Design and Development at ComArtSci, and they have fun along the way. The university also offers chances to compete across the state and the U.S. through the growing eSports program.

By John Castro

Get your game face on