Secrets of video game developers: Mountain Dew and Krispy Kreme
Universities at Shady Grove event a chance to network, display talent
For 48 straight hours, budding video game designers sustained their bodies with Mountain Dew, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and brief naps in a quest to achieve eternal glory or at least impress prospective employers.
From Friday through Sunday, more than 6,500 gamers worldwide participated in the Global Game Jam, a marathon event that challenges teams of aspiring developers to design and create a video game based on a set theme.
In Rockville, more than 30 gamers took part in jam at the Universities at Shady Grove, where they had the chance to exercise their creativity and to network with professional game developers from companies throughout Maryland.
Maryland is home to more than 50 video game companies, including Bethesda Softworks in Rockville, the developer of blockbusters such as Fallout 3, which has sold more than 4 million copies, according to multiple industry publications.
"It's great," said 16-year-old Ryan King of Olney, who won the Global Game Jam at University of Maryland Baltimore County last year with Team Sherwood. "You are learning things here you wouldn't learn other places. It prepares you for the professional world."
More than three years ago, the University of Baltimore brought its Simulation and Digital Entertainment degree program to the Universities at Shady Grove campus in Rockville, starting with five students. The program now has about 60.
Although a Simulation and Digital Entertainment degree from University of Baltimore looks good on a resume, it is not enough to land a development job in the industry, according to ZeniMax Media game developer Chris Dillman and University of Baltimore adjunct professor Brian Doyle. Maintaining a strong portfolio, networking and, above all, talent, are the qualities employers want.
The economic outlook for the video game industry has been relatively strong from 2005 to 2009, the industry's annual growth rate exceeded 10 percent, while the nation's economy grew at a rate of less than 2 percent according to the Entertainment Software Association. The U.S. video game industry employs more than 32,000 people in 34 states.
The positive economic climate for video game development has led colleges and some high schools to offer degree programs and courses in animation and game design. Along with Montgomery College's Game & Simulation Program, Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring has a gaming and computer science curriculum.
Inside the classroom, Doyle makes an effort to give his students a look at the realities that professional developers face.
He estimated about 15 percent of University of Baltimore graduates become professional developers. Those who do face long hours, strict deadlines and immense pressure to produce popular games.
"[The gaming industry] is insanely competitive," Doyle said. "It's one of the most competitive things you can do. A fraction [of graduates] that go through this program will work for an AAA video game company. The best of the best may get a job in the business."
At the Universities at Shady Grove jam, the audience choice award was Unicorn vs. Narwahl from Sherwood High School's Team Blue, while 5 Sheep Studios took the judge's top prize for ScrEWEd, a bloody opus where the gamer plays a trigger-happy sheep herder that unloads bullets on savage wolves attacking the herd.
"ScrEWEd was a very polished game that you can ship off and sell," Dillman said.
As the members of 5 Sheep Studios relished in victory and the chance for some sleep, Pure Bang Games president and CEO Ben Walsh approached them and offered his congratulations before handing out his business card that carries with it the possibility of internship and employment opportunities.
"I'm always looking for talented people," Walsh said. "The great thing about these events is that it brings out so many of them. These kids are passionate."