Video games have come a long way since Pong debuted in 1972. In 2018, Forbes reported the gaming market generated around $139 billion in revenue. And since 2016, Arkansas Tech University in Russellville has been teaching students who will become the video game developers of tomorrow.
In the 2016 fall semester, ATU launched its game and interactive media design program. The university says it helps prepare students looking to enter the fields of video games and entertainment as well as animation, web design, interactive visualization construction and simulation programming.
During its inaugural semester, the school saw 32 students enroll in this new program, according to Sam Strasner, director of university relations. That number rose to 75 in 2017, 97 in 2018 and 116 in 2019, a total growth of 263 percent, Strasner notes.
Dustin Simpson, assistant professor of game and interactive media design at Tech, says the program has produced eight graduates, five in the spring of 2019 and three that fall. The next graduating class will have double digits.
Graduates of the program learn to create virtual worlds, and those worlds can be used to entertain, but also to teach, among other things.
The interest level in the degree is strong, Simpson says. “Prospective students seem glad to have an option in Arkansas, and we’re fortunate to be able to provide that opportunity.”
John David McGrew, assistant professor of 3D modeling and animation at Tech, says the program has continued to grow each year. “Many prospective students at university events and other activities have shown great enthusiasm and interest in the prospect of studying this broad and expanding field.”
Before enrolling in the program, students should be aware that although it can be fun designing games and apps, the classes are not without long nights and late hours, Simpson says.
“Fortunately, most of our students find that it’s worth it.”
McGrew urges students interested in the study to be ready to flex their creative muscles, pointing out that the university’s art department houses four programs: fine art, art education, graphic design and game and interactive media design.
Looking at the overall game and interactive media job field, McGrew says the industry employs a wide range of designers and artists. And although much of the work in this degree is digitally focused, the 3D modeling and animation professor says many of the principles and foundational skills of traditional art are still present.
“Housing the game and interactive media design program within the Department of Art has allowed us to draw on that foundation,” McGrew says.
Within the four programs housed in ATU’s art department, students will find some skills and classes overlap. Simpson says all visual mediums ultimately rely on a strong foundation of art and design principles with much overlap.
“The graphic design and game and interactive media-design programs also share digital art courses in image manipulation, digital illustration and animation,” he says.
Required courses for the program include animation techniques, game development, 3D modeling, 3D animation, digital 3D foundations and foundations of computer programming.
Randy Leggett of Russellville is enrolled in the game and interactive media design program. He says the professors are patient and able to simplify methods students need to get a good final product.
“It can be a somewhat frightening experience, but once you get the techniques down from the professors, it becomes a fun, rewarding class,” he says.
The video game industry grew around 10 percent in 2018, according to Forbes. If that growth continues into the future, it’ll mean more jobs available for ATU students who graduate through this program.
Students’ work will be on display April 10-20 at Tech’s Norman Hall Art Gallery.