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Just Glad to Be Here

Contractor Blues!

Posted by , 21 November 2011 - - - - - - · 469 views
Game Development and 2 more...
I haven’t posted in a while. Mostly it’s because I’ve been so busy working. Terrible problem…too much work!

As an independent developer, I depend on contract work to make an income. That means that I spend a lot of time working on other people’s stuff. Not that I’m complaining. I enjoy the work. It is challenging and still allows me to flex my creative muscles.

I’m currently in a lull where I only have one contract project (instead of three at once!).
That means I actually have time to do other things like blog and WORK ON MY OWN GAME!

The Contract Trap

I have read it in other people’s blogs and heard it on other people’s podcasts: Once you start taking on contract work then work on your own game will suffer! The truth is that you have to meet the milestones on your contracts (if you want to get paid) and you don’t have to meet the milestones on your own projects. So, my own game keeps sliding while other people’s games get done.

Don’t get me wrong…I love contract work because I love things like food and cars and having a roof over my head. Being able to do contract work means that I get to stay independent, make a living, and still do what I love which is program games.

Maintaining Balance

When I look back over the last several months I am struck wondering where all the time went. I think the most difficult part of being a self-funded Indie is trying to maintain the balance between making a living and working on my own game, which is the reason I decided to go Indie in the first place.

So, now that I have some time, I also have some time to re-group and re-evaluate. I’m getting ‘back in the game’ and ramping back up on development.

Keeping the Flame Burning

It’s easy to get discouraged. Over a year has gone by since I started my game project and I don’t feel like I have enough to show for it. I remember last year thinking that I wanted a playable demo done by the end of 2010. Now that is my goal for 2011!

However, I keep reminding myself that I’m in this for the long haul. Obviously, I have to survive and that means taking on contract work to have an income. So, I just remind myself that no matter how long it takes I will finish my game.

Connecting with People

It can be really easy to fall into the trap of never interacting with other people. After all, I work from my home and my development team is distributed and online. Weeks can go by without hearing another developer’s voice!

One thing that has really helped me is making it a point to regularly interact with other people involved in the project. My designer recently “forced” me to setup regular meetings so we can talk about the game. My initial choice was to work in isolation to ‘get some coding done’. The truth is that talking with others about the game always gets me more motivated to actually do some more work on it.

Isolation bad. People good.




Indie by Default - Part III

Posted by , 29 July 2011 - - - - - - · 603 views
Game development, game studio and 1 more...
Moving forward

I am a great believer in the Bible, that is, the Game Design Document. Although the urge as a programmer is to get coding as soon as possible, I know the benefit of a good design document from experience. Without it, your ideas get fuzzy and you end up doing a lot of programming that is wasted on fleeting ideas.

So, my first step was to start creating a game document. I found that completing the design document helped me turn my fuzzy ideas into a set of concrete specifications.

The accomplishment of getting that first page of the game design document inspired me. Now there was something concrete to show for my game idea. The more I wrote the more progress I saw. This is another benefit of creating a design document first: instant gratification.

Once I finished the game design document, I had a solid reference to use to begin programming. I’m the kind of programmer that tends to work in spurts. One weekend a spurt happened and I created the first prototype for the game.

The more I accomplished, the more I was invested, the more I was motivated.

Alternate reality

I don’t want to give you the idea that this has been easy and that I have achieved all of my goals. The reality of survival has side-tracked me several times. It’s too easy to spend all of my time on projects that actually make money.

Being independent is the world’s most complex balancing act. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself back in the place where you are doing everyone else’s projects but not your own. Once you start down that path, it’s easy to get detoured from your game. If you find yourself detoured, get back to the main road!

I’m not suggesting that anyone be irresponsible. I understand that human nature (and sometimes survival) means going for the money first. However, with discipline and planning, I have always been able to get the game project back on track while I survive.

Going public

One final word. Just last month I had another spurt and created a web page for my new studio. I immediately sent word to all of my friends, family, and colleagues to check it out.

Twitter. Facebook. The whole deal.

Frankly, I was scared to death.

Going public meant that this was more than just a dream or idle fancy. Now everyone that is important to me knows that I am trying to make it as an indie. Some of them probably think I’m crazy. Others will understand and respect my decision. But the fact is, the word is out and I’m really not good at failure. Now, more than ever, I am motivated to succeed because, in a way, I am accountable to those who are rooting for my success.

If you’re unemployed and wondering what happened to your game development career, I hope this article inspires you to do something more. Even if you already took that job programming for an accounting firm, you can still make a way to do what you love—make games. Make your own game.

Independent by default. For me, it’s either this or boring. I now work just as many hours as when I was employed, if not more. The sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that I am still doing what I love more than compensates for the extra time.

3:00 A.M. Tired, crazy, happy!

Robert





Indie by Default - Part II

Posted by , 04 June 2011 - - - - - - · 891 views

The new era of indie games

I remember a time about as eight years ago when I was first researching the game industry. The general consensus at that time was that the days of the small “garage” team game developer was over. Games now cost millions of dollars to produce and thousands of man hours. Furthermore, specialization was the norm. Not only were their designers, programmers and artists, but also specialists inside of each of those fields. The conclusion: making a game on your own or with a few talented friends was no longer an option.

Fortunately, the indie game developers weren't listening.

Now, more than ever, the environment and technology are open and supportive to small, independent games. An abundance of tools have cropped up that target the small indie studio. Torque, Unity, XNA, and PlayFirst are just a few examples of low cost or free game engines. Just as important are the avenues of distribution that have opened up. Services such as Steam, XBox Live Arcade, Kongregate, and many other services have come up that directly focus on smaller games. Finally, there are new platforms that make sense for the indie game including the PC, web, Facebook, iPhone, and Windows Mobile. The point is that the barriers of entry are now lower than ever.

I’m not saying that it’s easy. In fact, the competition is overwhelming on all of the promising platforms I named above. But there is one thing to keep in mind: Three years ago, few people took game development on the iPhone seriously. Now it is one of the most prolific platforms for games. The same is true of Facebook. If these examples are indicative—and they seem to be—there is a huge market for the more “casual” games that indie studios are best at.

Focus testing

No, I’m not talking about getting a bunch of kids in a room to play your next game. I’m talking about the need to focus or you’ll never get anything done! There are so many variables to consider when first starting an independent game that it can be overwhelming.

Once I had decided that I was going to get serious about making my own game, I was immediately lost in the details. What kind of game did I want to create? Which platform and language should I use? Should I use a game engine or should I just start from scratch?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Ultimately I used two criteria to make these choices: experience and resources.

I asked myself, “What programming platform do you have the most experience with?” Although I am fluent in C++, I also did a great deal of development in Visual Basic and C# in my previous business. I had a lot of experience in .NET web development as well. Knowing that anything done in C++ doubled or tripled development time, I decided to use on C#. I also decided to use the web because I could leverage my existing knowledge of ASP.Net development. This would allow me to target the web as well as Facebook with my game.

I realize the C# and .NET aren’t the most common tools to use for game programming, but this leads to the second criteria: resources. In the beginning, I knew the only resource that I had was me, so I chose the platform that would allow me to produce meaningful results in a reasonable amount of time.

I also knew that my greatest limitation was art. I am no artist! So, when it came to picking a game design, I chose a type of game that was not art intensive. I needed a game where even I could supply the art if needed, and hopefully I could get a real artist involved at some point in the future.

So, there’s my focus: a web based game--written in C# and ASP.Net--that doesn’t need a lot of art. Having this focus is what allowed me to move forward. My advice: moving forward is always better than not moving!


Indie by Default - Part I

Posted by , 08 March 2011 - - - - - - · 752 views

It's been a while since my last post. Part of the reason is becuase life has been a little chaotic since then! Unfortunately, I was laid off from my previous studio, and since then I've been working at starting an independent studio. The way I see it, going indie is the only choice I have right now if I want to keep making games. In other words, it's Indie by Default!

This article was originally publised in the February 2011 issue of IGDA Perspectives. I will be reposing it here as a three part post so everyone can enjoy it!

In the computer world, default is the state of rest--that which occurs when nothing special is going on. It is the status quo. Over the last three years, it has been my experience that the default state of employment in the game industry is unemployment.

Since entering the game industry in 2008, I have had a wild ride. First, Dallas followed by lay off in less than a year…then a seven month job search…next Canada followed by layoff within a year…more job search. You get it. I’ve been unemployed about as much as I’ve been employed. Of course, I knew the game industry was infamous for such instability before I ever decided to point my career in that direction. I also realize that there are thousands of others from the game industry who have faced similar or worse situations over the last several years.

When life gives you lemons...

The first time I was laid off, my entire focus was on finding another job. Seven months and 300 resumes later, I found another job as a game programmer. Looking for a job was literally a full-time affair. Eleven months later I was laid off again.

After the second layoff, I decided to turn my disadvantage into opportunity. Given the current economy, I realized that finding another job would be a multi-month adventure. This time, I wanted to do more with that time than just look for the next job. I also wanted to continue working at what I love: making games. After all, that’s why I got into the industry!

Before I entered the game industry I had been self-employed. My longstanding joke was that a self-employed person is just an unemployed person with a business card. So here I was “self-employed” again. Since I already had some experience as an independent programmer, becoming an independent game developer seemed the next logical step.

I have to admit that having been self-employed for the last 15 made it a little easier. I had a lot of resources to fall back on such as previous clients and online avenues of revenue. Since I was already familiar with the ropes of being self-employed, I decided to spend about 50% of my time working for pay and the other 50% working on my game. Somewhere in there I would keep my eye out for promising jobs.

The opportunity of independence

Anyone who has been involved in making games for someone else has also thought of ideas for their own game. But there are real barriers to making your own games while you are employed for another game studio. Generally, as an employee, you must sign non-disclosure agreements and non-compete contracts that essentially block you from developing your own games. What’s theirs is theirs. What’s yours is also theirs. Being unemployed generally means that you are free of such agreements.

Another new resource you suddenly discover as an unemployed person is time. Now that you're not crunching 12 hours a day, what are you going to do with yourself? Catching up on the last three seasons of Lost will only take so much time! The key is to find a way to balance what is essential (such as making enough money to survive or looking for that next job) with what is desired (making games).

I realize that survival and looking for a job can be a full time effort of its own. However, with planning and discipline, you can make the time to keep making games.

Think about it: while you were working for the typical game studio you are already working 12 hours a day. Why stop now?

Being unemployed can be a great opportunity. First, there is a good chance that you are receiving some kind of short term support in terms of unemployment benefits. You may have the support of a spouse. If you were smart, you saved up some money while you were gainfully employed. Second, even if you spend a lot of time on the job search, you probably still have more discretionary time on your hands than when you were employed. Finally, you are probably free of any contractual limits on your ability to make your own games. You've dreamed of making your own game…now is your chance!

That's it for part 1. See you next week for part 2! R




Going Indy

Posted by , 06 December 2010 - - - - - - · 544 views

So you want to go Indy?

I see a lot of posts on forums that look something like this:


I want to break into the game industry, but I really don't want to waste my time going to school or anything. I've got this great idea for a game and I know it will be the greatest. I'm thinking I'll just skip the whole job thing and just start my own game company. Can you give me some advice?

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows that I am a pretty strong advocate for the more traditional route to a job in the game industry: get a degree, then get an entry level job and move on from there. The biggest problem with posts like the one above is that it looks like whoever wrote it:

- Doesn't really want to work hard

- Is trying to skip all the prep work

- Thinks their great idea is so great that everyone else is dumb for not realizing it

- ...and finally, doesn't have a clue!

But let's say we're talking about someone who has really prepared and wants to seriously consider going independent rather than working for another game developer. What should such a person consider when trying to make this decision?

Motivation

The first question you should ask your self is why? There are many motivations people have for choosing to go independent:

1. A veteran in the industry may decide that it's time to break out of the mold and start a company that is run the way they want it to be run.

2. A student may decide that going independent is the best way to extend their project from school and turn it into a completed, marketable game.

3. In the current economy, going independent is a viable alternative to unemployment.

These are all good reasons to consider going independent. If this is something you are seriously considering, then realize that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Running your own studio is much harder than just getting a job and working for someone else, so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into!

Do Your Homework

First, starting an independent game studio is much like starting any other business. You have to consider what form your business will take (e.g. sole proprietorship, corporation, etc.). There are licenses to get and bank accounts to create. Will you have employees? Triple all of that!

If you have never run a business, then you need to do some research and find out exactly what it takes to start one. One resource I can definitely suggest is your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC is a branch of the federal Small Business Administration. They offer free information and advice and can also facilitate a small business loan. Check them out at http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/sbdc/index.html.

Are You a Business Person?

I have been self-employed for almost 20 years. I think the most important lesson that I have learned is that being really good at what you do (e.g. art, programming, game design) does not necessarily mean that you are good at running a business. In truth, I am really good a programming, but I suck at running a business.

In order to be successful, you are going to need someone who is really good at business. If creating art or writing code is what excites you the most, then you probably are not that person! Someone who is truly good at business gets excited about things like marketing, sales, budgeting, and cold-calls...these are not things that I love to do.

So, if you are seriously considering starting an independent studio, make sure that you have someone on your team who dreams of running a business more than they dream about creating a great game.

So Many Hats to Wear

If you truly are thinking about going solo, then remember that the full responsibility will be yours to make things work. As an independent computer programmer, I estimate that I spend only 25% of my time actually coding. The other 75% is spent finding work, getting people to pay me, and doing paperwork and other administrative chores. You may be able to run solo for a while, but eventually you will have to bring in other people who are experts at business so you can focus on your area of expertise.

And so much more...

Of course, there is no way I could go into all of the details of starting an independent studio in one post. Hopefully this has at least given you some food for thought. Going independent is a hard road, but it can also be rewarding. And there has never been a better time for independent studios in terms of technology and opportunity.

Until next time...Good luck!

Robert



All Roads Lead...

Posted by , 12 October 2010 - - - - - - · 329 views

Well, it has been quite a while since I posted to my blog, and of course, a lot has happened. I have moved on to "greener pastures" after begin laid off, yet I am still going strong. Stay tuned here for my current venture. Until then, let's continue my topic on how to break into the game industry.

In my last blog ("Let's Make a Deal"), I talked about the three most common ways to get an entry level job in the game industry: programmer, artist, and game tester. While these three "doors" are the most common entry points, there are certainly other possibilities!

There are so many types of jobs in the game industry that I couldn't possibly cover all of the options. However, after reading this post one thing should be apparent: There are many roads that lead to the doors of the game industry. If you want to be a part of this great field, then there is a place for you regardless of your age, background, or choice of education.

The following positions are part of the standard production team for most studios. They were not included in the previous post because they are typically less likely to be available as entry level positions


  • Producer/Associate Producer

    Producers are the project managers of game development. They are responsible for leading the production team, insuring that the project is on time and on budget, and interfacing with management and the publisher. Associate producers typically assist the producer. Whereas the producer may have responsibility over several projects, the associate producer may only assist with a single project. Of course, each studio is different.



  • Game Designer

    It seems like everyone wants to be a game designer. Everyone has this great idea for a game and thinks that qualifies them to be a game designer.

    "If Studio X only realized how great this game idea is they'd hire me!"

    Of course, it takes more than just a great game idea to be a game designer. Among other things, you must have excellent communications and writing skills. You should have a broad background in humanities such as philosophy, history, and psychology. Finally, you should be designing games, even if they are paper based!

    As one reader of my last post pointed out, it is possible to get an entry level job as a game designer. In fact, the last studio I worked at had done so. Just realize that it take more than a great game idea.




The positions below are often support positions in the IT (Information Technology) department, but can also be directly involved in the game depending on the type of game.


  • PC Support

    Do you have a knack for working with PC and Macs? Can you configure and troubleshoot? Load software? Install hardware? Most studios need people with these skills to keep a multitude of workstations working, configured, and upgraded.



  • Network Engineer

    Most studios have a relatively complex internal network and they need someone with the skills to build it, configure it, tear it down, set it up, and keep it running. This includes knowledge of servers to support version control, SharePoint, Wikis, web servers, and other such tools.


  • Database Manager

    Many companies use databases for internal purposes. Furthermore, many games such as web-based and social network games are built on modern databases. Studios often need skilled database managers to design, maintain, and tweak their databases or get essential information out of them.



  • Web Developer

    The web is used in many ways in the game industry. Many games have a community website that allows fans of the games to get involved, post feedback, or ask questions. Many studios also use the web to market or distribute their games. Finally, many games are based on the web. For all of the reasons, most medium to large size studios need experienced web developers to accomplish all of this.



  • Community Manager

    Many game studios have large community websites with blogs and forums that must be maintained. This community manager is responsible for keeping the fans happy and informed.



The positions below are not directly related to creating games, but are essential nevertheless. These positions could certainly provide careers in their own right, and could also lead to positions that are more directly involved in making the games.


  • Marketing

    Marketing is responsible for getting the word out about the newest games. If you have a degree in marketing and want to apply it to a creative field, then the game industry might be the perfect fit.



  • Sales

    Sales is sometimes handled by marketing, but is also often its own department. People who are successful in sales are successful with other people. Sales personnel are responsible for finding buyers and distributors for games. This might include getting your game out to online distribution points such as Big Fish and Steam as well as brick-and-mortar stores such as Wal-Mart and GameStop.



  • Graphics Design

    Someone has to design those flashy boxes that game come in as well as a multitude of other marketing materials including flyers, posters, t-shirts and more. If your penchant is more along the line of business graphics design rather than game art, this might be the place for you.



  • Customer/Technical Support

    Some game studios maintain a technical support department so that customers can call in and obtain help from a human being in areas such as game installation, game bugs and crashes, and other technical support issues.



So there it is! Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but it does demonstrate that there are ample opportunities for people who didn't necessarily get a game-specific degree (except perhaps the game designers). Basically, any position that you would find at a medium to large company probably exists at a game studio--human resources, accountants, receptionists--the list goes on. These opportunities also offer entry points to people in other professions who would like to cross-over into the game industry.

Next time we'll talk about one more possibility: Starting your own game studio.

Robert


Let's Make a Deal!

Posted by , 19 July 2010 - - - - - - · 393 views

You probably don't remember watching the game show Let's Make a Deal as host, Monty Hall, asked the proverbial question: "Is it behind door number 1, door number 2, or door number 3?" Picking the correct door meant winning the grand prize. Picking the wrong door meant, well, not winning the grand prize.

Although finding a job in the game industry is not a game of chance, it is important that you understand the viable entry points (or we'll just call them "doors") so that you properly prepare for that position. As it turns out, there are three common doors to choose from.

Door Number 1 - Game Tester

Becoming a game tester is often touted as one of the easiest ways to at least get your foot in the door (boy, how far will I be able to stretch this analogy!). Behind door number one you can expect many hours of playing games, finding bugs, and documenting those bugs with great alacrity. The movie Grandma's Boy might be your reference for this position, or perhaps you have watched The Tester, a reality TV show where participants compete for the rare prize of a job as game tester for Sony. Consider these two references as "dramatizations" only.

One thing is true about game testers...they actually do sit around all day long and play games. As fun as this might sound, get ready for some really grueling work as you play the same game over and over and over. A student once asked me if game testers got to choose the games they tested (indicating that Pokemon might not be his thing). No such luck. As a game tester you will play games you love, games you hate, and everything in between. The important part of being a game tester is the ability to spot, reproduce, and then accurately report bugs. This is mostly done by comparing the game you are playing to the game design document (often over 100 pages long).

Game testing is tedious, and the pay probably won't allow you to buy your dream car (or even your dream game system), but it is a valid door into the game industry. For example, in the company I work for, one game tester was recently promoted to producer while another tester was promoted to designer. The key to climbing the ladder is to do your job well, take initiative, and communicate your desired career goals with others in the studio.

Door Number 2 - Game Programmer

It is quite possible to get an entry level position as a game programmer. These titles often go by the name "Junior Programmer". As a junior programmer, it will be your job to be part of a team of more experienced programmers. You will be expected to make a real contribution to the project, and you will also be expected to listen, watch, and learn from the other programmers around you.

Keep in mind that even a junior programmer is expected to have mastered the core concepts of game programming. For most game jobs this will mean having a Bachelor degree in computer science, being fluent in C++, and having a working knowledge of both 2D and 3D game programming concepts. You will almost certainly have to complete a programming test before you will even be considered.

Being a junior programmer means lots of hard work, and probably some overtime (especially during crunch). Since this will be your first game programming gig, you will probably find yourself putting in some extra hours as you learn more and more about what it is to be a game programmer. In this position, it is important to get your assignments done, research skills that you don't have, and ask for help when you need it. Most of your companion programmers will be more than willing to take time to help you better yourself.

Door Number 3 - Artist

Entry level positions are also available to artists. As an entry level artist, you will be expected to work as part of a team of artists on a particular project creating assets that will be used in the game. Depending on your skill level and the type of game, this might be anything from creating marketing materials to creating 3D models. Another common area for entry level artists is creating art for the UI (UI = User Interface).

Just as with a junior programmer, even a junior artist (I'm not totally sure they use that title!) will be expected to have mastered the core tools which may include Adobe Photoshop and one or more 3D modeling programs such as Maya or 3ds Max. Most employers will want to see a portfolio of your existing work before they interview you.

As with any game development position, being an artist will mean hard work and some overtime. One of the most essential skills you will have to learn is the ability to get large amounts of work done by a certain deadline. This often means knowing when a piece of art is "good enough" and moving on to the next item. Artists rarely have the luxury of poring over a certain piece of art until it is "perfect". However, you often have a chance toward the end of the project to add additional polish to your work.

Door Number ?

To keep this article short, I have intentionally limited my discussion to the three most common doors for entering the game industry. There are certainly other ways to break in, but these are the most common entry level positions. In my next post I'll discuss more of the positions that make up a working game studio.

One important thing to keep in mind is that you should have an idea of your target entry level position long before you are looking for a job. For example, if you are getting ready to choose a college, make sure the college offers a program that will prepare you for the entry level job you are targeting. Even if your entry point is as a game tester, you will most likely have a career goal that comes after that, and this is what you should focus on during your education.

R


Anatomy of a Game College

Posted by , 23 June 2010 - - - - - - · 624 views

Continuing on with my thread about game education, I would like to share my thoughts about a particular program that I am very familiar with because my son attended there. This post is not designed to either endorse or criticize the program at Full Sail. Although I am very pleased with the education that my son received their (and he is, too), any student considering a program at or like the one at Full Sail should take the time to learn about all of the details--positive and negative--before making a choice.

As I have stated in my previous posts, attending a specialized game college has its advantages and disadvantages. For my son, the advantage was that Full Sail offered a focused, accelerated program that allowed him to get his degree in game programming in only 2 years (remember this point as your read on). He was not interested in a traditional four-year college because he didn't want to take four years to go through college. He also felt that a traditional program would spend too much time on material that had nothing to do with game development. At the time (2005), Full Sail was one of the few specialized game colleges. Interestingly, he was first attracted to Full Sail because of their music program, which is also considered to be very excellent. When his career focus changed to game development, Full Sail seemed like a great pick.

Short Cut?

Before I continue, let me briefly discuss my thoughts on traditional vs. non-traditional programs. It can be argued that traditional four-year colleges offer a better, more well-rounded education. Sometimes when I hear potential students (like my son) say that they don't want to attend a four-year college because they feel the general education will be a "waste of their time", I automatically jump to the conclusion that this person might be just using this as an excuse. Personally, I feel that the breadth of education offered by traditional programs is very valuable. Many employers may also feel the same, wondering if a student who opted for an accelerated program was looking for some kind of short cut to their education.

Having said that, I also realize that you can't force a square peg into a round hole. There are different kinds of students who learn or excel in different types of environments. Knowing my son, I could see that he would flourish in an environment like Full Sail but wouldn't necessarily flourish in a traditional program. As a student, you should take a hard look at your motivations for seeking a specialized program, and make sure that you don't somehow think this is the "easy way". I can tell you from experience that getting an education from Full Sail is anything but easy!

The Program

At the time my son attended Full Sail, the game development program was offered as a two-year degree. They had just upgraded the program so that the student actually earned a Bachelors degree by the time they were done. This is very important because having a certified Bachelors degree is leaps and bounds better than just receiving a technical certificate of some kind.

Full Sail is a 24 hour, 7 day a week school. This means that your classes could potentially fall on any day of the week, at any time of the day or night. Realistically, most of the classes occurred between the hours of 8:00 A.M and midnight. Very few sessions were held on Sunday.

Students take 2 (count em - two!) classes each month. Each class takes a month to complete and typically meets three times a week. Each class session is 8 hours log and is divided between 4 hours of lecture and 4 hours of lab. The average student should then plan on at least another 4 to 6 hours per day outside of class to complete the required homework and projects. In other words, you will be investing at least 12 hours every day to your school work. This doesn't leave a whole lot of time for smelling the roses (or partying). Those who don't take this commitment seriously generally end up dropping out.

Attendance and Academics

One of the things that Full Sail recruiters don't emphasize enough is their attendance policy. Since Full Sail is so accelerated, missing class is not tolerated. If you miss one class session, you might be able to catch up. If you miss two class sessions, you are automatically failed and have to retake the class another time.

Again, because of the accelerated nature of the program, there isn't a lot of slack for missing or failed assignments. Basically if you dont complete one or two assignments, or fail a single exam, it is likely that you will fail the class and be required to take it again.

Students can be put on academic probation. This means the Full Sail will require the student to take from 1 to 6 months off of school before they are allowed to return and continue their studies. Academic probation can be invoked for failing too many classes, attendance problems, or if your GPA falls below a certain level.

Retake Policy

Realizing that the accelerated nature of the class might scare away potential students, Full Sail recruiters are quick to stress that you can retake any class that you want to until you pass it. However, they may leave out the nasty details, such as:

- Students are charged a retake fee (potentially over $1000) each time they retake a class.

- Although students can theoretically take a class as many times as necessary, there is a fundamental limit on how many times you can retake courses because of the 3 year time limit put on completing the program (see below).

- If you have to retake a class, this will generally delay your entire program. For example, let's say you fail 3D Programming I. Had you passed it, you would have continued on to 3D Programming II. But since you failed it, you can't take 3D Programming II, or any other course that had 3D Programming I as a prerequisite. The result is that you may only be able to take one class instead of two next month, and so on until you have a chance to repeat and complete 3D Programming I (which isn't guaranteed to happen the next month).

Time Limit

The Full Sail program is designed to be completed in 2 years. However, few students are able to accomplish this. It is almost inevitable that students will have to retake one or more courses. Furthermore, Full Sail enforces a 3 year completion time limit. What this means is this: if you do not complete your program in 3 years, then you cannot graduate and you will not be allowed to finish.

Failure became a real possibility for my son. He had to retake a few classes, and then this cascaded to delay future classes that he could take until he had completed the prerequisites. During the last six months he was faced with the possibility that if he failed a single class for any reason, it would be impossible for him to complete the program in the 3 year time limit. This means that you could spend over $50,000 dollars, invest 3 years of your life, and complete 90% of the program only to be told that you will not be allowed to graduate!

Perks

On the positive side, all students in the Full Sail game development get a free laptop! Hey, if nothing else, you'll get a cool laptop for that fifty grand you paid for tuition! Other perks include:

- State of the art equipment
- 24 hour access to labs
- An expansive technical library
- Credible instructors who really know their stuff
- Many connections with people inside the industry, including regular visits from recruiters and other reps

Cost

At the time my son attended Full Sail, the cost of tuition was around $56,000 (includes books). This is a lot of money, but not so bad if you compare it to a four-year program. For example, in-state tuition at a local college for four years plus books will run you about $8,000 per year (not counting housing and food). Out-of-state tuition will raise this to about $15,000 per year. So, the cost of attending a college in your state of residence will run about $32,000 over four years (just under the cost of Full Sail), while attending an out-of-state college will cost you about $60,000 in four years (about the same as Full Sail). Of course, these are just estimates and you should check the actual costs of any school you are considering. The bottom line is that the cost of attending Full Sail is about as much as it would cost you to attend an out-of-state college.

Career Placement

Full Sail does an okay job of helping students position themselves to get a job after graduation. But like any college, they cannot find a job for you. You will hear legendary stories of students who got their dream job offer before they even graduated (and this does happen). However, these cases are definitely the exception. The reality is that you will be graduating with about 30 to 50 students (each month) and all of you will have to vie for whatever positions are available at the time. It took my son 9 months to get his first job.

The Bottom Line

Full Sail is a great school. My son feels he got what he expected, and has now been working as a game programmer for over 2 years. However, his success was due to his dedication, and he came very close to not being able to complete the program. As an interesting side not he and two friends all began Full Sail at the same month. Only he completed the program. The drop-out rate at Full Sail is about this high.

If you are considering attending Full Sail, or any other specialized, focused, game college, keep these things in mind:

- Make sure you understand how much time you will have to invest daily to complete the program, and be honest with yourself as to whether you are willing to invest that much time.

- Really, really, really make sure that you are aware of all of the schools academic, attendance, and related policies.

- Make sure that you understand that the college does not make the student. Any program you attend will require you to completely dedicate yourself to the task if you want to succeed.

One final caveat! This discussion of Full Sails policies is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate as of the time my son attended their program. It is entirely possible that some or all of these have changed since then, so make sure you find out for yourself!

That's it for now!

R






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