UT Gaming Academy Aims to Train Next Generation in Business

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Blizzard’s Sams, and his wife, Susan, as well as Wofford Denius, who is the director of the Cain Foundation, contributed an undisclosed amount of funding to start the program.

Schmidt says that existing programs so far have focused on undergraduate education and the more technical facets of game development. In fact, UT already has a Game Development Program, similar to programs such as Guildhall at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. “There’s a lot of buzz and applause and camaraderie. Startups get created on a bus to South by Southwest,” he says. “But it sets up false expectations, and six months later they’re back looking for a day job.”

The key question for the gaming academy is how executives who have learned the business on the fly come with a set curriculum to train future gamers in how to not just run a studio, but lead a business. Hitting that sweet spot could help the Texas gaming industry cope with the rocky economic climate recently, which has included studio closures and mass layoffs. Electronic Arts laid off 900 last month, while Blizzard cut 600 people from payrolls last year. Earlier this month, San Francisco-based Zynga announced it was cutting 520 jobs, a group that included 96 employees in its Texas offices.

“There is a disruption in our industry,” Schmidt says. “You don’t just need the big central publishing conglomerates anymore. The pipeline to customers is very direct, creator to consumer.”

UT’s academy could help the Texas gaming industry develop an ecosystem within the state, one that is more independent from the economic cycles of the big California-based companies. Today, Texas has the second-largest concentration of game companies in the U.S., with more than 155 development and publishing companies accounting for about 4,000 full-time jobs, according to the Texas Film Commission in the Office of the Governor.

At least one prospective student is intrigued. Austin Hallock created Clay.io, a marketplace for HTML5 games, when he was a UT student and is thinking of applying to the new program. “This is an opportunity to work with 19 other students who have the same mentality that you do,” he says. “You can be creative and also a leader in the game industry itself.”

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