The Games Academy: Work hard, play hard

The computer industry is booming. Today, supermodel Heidi Klum can be seen advertising Guitar Hero–in her underwear. The message seems clear: Gaming is sexy.

The industry’s turnover figures back up the impression that computer games are becoming part of our every day culture too. For five years the numbers have been rising steadily. In 2007 the industry’s turnover in Germany was 1.36 billion euros, more than the film industry even. And the latest figures from the first three quarters in 2008 already point to another record year. 

More personnel required

With an increased demand for games on a whole variety of platforms, there is a higher demand for qualified personnel. Since 2000, the Games Academy –a private run specialist college for games –has been preparing students for a career in the games industry.

“We are one of the only ones in Europe who provide an education for a career in the games industry,” says Games Academy press spokesperson Julia Kastenmeier. 

Located in Berlin and Frankfurt, the Games Academy is small compared to a regular university. 150 students study at the two locations. One is located in a loft in the Berlin Mitte district and the other is situated at a new site in the east of Frankfurt. At the Games Academy, each student is provided with their own computer work station and the academy makes sure their students have access to the latest games. 

Working with the best

The staff are right up to date on industry developments too. At the Games Academy there is no full time teaching personnel. Instead lecturers are drawn from a pool of staff, who all work in the industry. Top German computer games company Crytek, also located in Frankfurt, regularly provides lecturers for example. 

This model has advantages for the lecturers’ employers and the students: Companies from the games industry have contact to a pool of talented young recruits. “They are here to scout people too,” says Kastenmeier who points out that a great deal of the students already have jobs lined up before finishing. 25 Games Academy alumni already work for Crytek. 

Freedom to play games and study

When you enter the Games Academy building in Frankfurt, it immediately gives you the impression that it is somewhat different to a regular university. Two white sofas arranged in front of a sleek black flat screen TV greet the visitor, whilst at the other end of the room a projector is set up. “The students have access to the facilities with a keycard 24/7,” says Kastenmeier. They also have access to all the main consoles and the latest games, “to keep up with industry developments”. 

The students studying here come from a broad mix of backgrounds and are typically in their early to mid twenties. Game Design student Mark Peterson says that he had already been accepted to begin a business studies course, but decided to come to the Games Academy instead. He heard about the academy at an information event and simply “changed my mind” he says with a grin. 

Mark takes the Game Design course, which not only provides students with a firm grounding in designing games, but also teaches project planning, as well as business law and marketing. Students can also train to be a Game Artist, a 3D Programmer or a Game Producer.

The 20-year-old German-American is enthusiastic: “The lecturers are really relaxed and super nice,” he says. The classes, he explains, take place in a traditional classroom setting. A great deal of their time, however, is spent on working on their projects. For these, they form work groups with other students to brainstorm, design and develop games. 

Many of the students have received prizes for their projects over the years. This year was no different, as at the 2008 German Developer Prize in Essen, the three top prizes for the Gamesload Newcomer Award 2008 went to teams of students or graduates of the Games Academy.

Omnipresent games

When the students have free time, the lines are blurred between their course and hobby. Many stay on after classes to play network games, or sit down on the sofas and start up one of the consoles. “Gaming sessions can go on late,” Mark says. 

Next to the flat screen TV there’s a guitar, a drum set and a microphone – the computer versions of the instruments that are needed for Guitar Hero and its subsequent versions. “It’s really popular at the moment,” says Mark, pointing out that the much-used guitar needs fixing. 

Here at the Games Academy, the students don’t need a super model to sell them a game. They will grab a joypad, or hop around on the sofa playing Guitar Hero regardless.