The University of Texas is joining with some video game industry veterans to launch an academy aimed at training students to become leaders in game development.
The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, a post-baccalaureate certification program, will be led by Austin gaming godfather Warren Spector and Paul Sams, chief operating officer of Blizzard Entertainment.
UT officials said the new academy will complement the school’s existing undergraduate Game Development Program. The new 12-month program will require students to create “a small-scale game from start to finish, working in teams to handle every aspect of the creation,” according to the university.
The academy “will focus explicitly on the bigger creative leadership aspects of game development – on the management and production side and on the creative leadership side,” Spector said. “This is a space that’s not being filled by the other programs and it will make the academy unique.”
It will be the first such program in the United States that’s led and taught by industry executives, according to the university, although UT faculty will also instruct.
Spector — who is known for his work on games such as “Ultima,” “Deus Ex” and the “Disney Epic Mickey” series — and Sams will serve as part-time instructors for the program. Sams’ company, Blizzard, is responsible for the hugely popular “World of Warcraft” online game, as well as the “Diablo” and “StarCraft” franchises.
The new academy – which begins in the fall of 2014 — is a joint effort between UT’s schools of communication, fine arts and computer science.
Those involved say Austin is a perfect spot to launch such an academy, pointing to its status as an industry development hub. The Texas Film Commission, which administers the state’s incentives program for the video gaming industry, estimates that Austin has more than 100 game studios. And more than 7,200 people in Austin worked in gaming and digital media jobs as of 2010, according to report by Austin economic consulting firm TXP.
Spector said he’s been trying for years to get UT to get a development program started.
“Frankly, I’ve always wanted to teach as my next career,” he said.
He described the program as “very practical” but also with unique goals, separate from other university-based game development programs.
“One thing that isn’t very well-served is how to be a producer, how to be what we call a project manager,” he said. “That is an underserved speciality and one that’s really vital.”
The program has spots available for 2014, and admitted students will get a tuition waver and a $10,000 stipend, according to the university.
By capping the enrollment at 20, Spector said, the program will attract the “best of the best” and give them a year of intense training from people active in the industry.
Spector, who is co-chair of the academy’s advisory board, also said that he hopes to help draw top-quality instructors from the industry.
“If I have anything to say about it … we’re not going to hire ‘those who can’t do, teach’ people,” he said. “We’re going to find people who really know their stuff.”
Roderick Hart, dean of the UT College of Communication, said the idea had been conceived of “some time ago” by school officials but the school had been waiting for the appropriate funding to materialize. The university is an investor in the program, as well as the Cain Foundation and Paul and Susan Sams , but Hart wouldn’t give exact funding amounts.
Hart called the academy a “Navy SEALS approach” where the university brings together an elite core of young people and gives them an intensive training experience. It will also be a liberal arts approach, bringing together people from various disciplines, he said.
“The program will prepare students to become creative team leaders who will drive the creation of games in the future, and ensure the vitality of the gaming industry,” he said.