Presented by Full Sail University

With North America contributing to nearly a quarter of the $175.8BN global games market revenue, according to Newzoo, we decided to sit down with Full Sail University's Education Director of Emerging Technologies, Haifa Maamar, Ph.D., to talk through what the university is doing to shape the industry and educate the next generation of change-makers.

Much like the professional industries they serve, Full Sail University's gaming-centric degree programs reflect the vastly different niche employment opportunities in the industry.

Q: What trends do you anticipate becoming important in the Game Design industry?

A: As the industry continues to expand, I see collaboration becoming increasingly important, especially between gaming studios and production studios. To that end, Full Sail unveiled its new Virtual Production Studio on March 8, 2022. This innovative facility is open to students across 10 degree programs including gaming, film, and computer animation. Not only does it provide students with additional resources, but it also serves to emphasize just how critical it is to connect cross-industry.

Beyond collaboration, I also foresee increased interest in extended reality, serious games, educational games, and Unreal Engine.

Q: What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing Game Design as a major and career path?

A: It's extremely important for prospective students to understand that Game Design, Game Development, and Game Art are different. So each area calls for different skills and passions. For example, a love of programming is important if you hope to pursue a bachelor’s in Game Development. I often suggest that individuals start by downloading and exploring a game engine to see if it feels like a good fit. 

At Full Sail, our undergraduate Game Design degree program is centered around gameplay, level design, systems, and mechanics. Game Design students also use programming languages to prototype gameplay features, such as player abilities, enemies, or other interactive objects. Much of this work occurs in Unreal Engine’s visual scripting language (which is called Blueprint). Students learn the Unreal Engine throughout the program.

Additionally, students pursuing a degree in Game Art focus on contributing realistic imagined spaces, characters, and scenarios. And last but not least, our master’s candidates in Game Design learn how to weave together game design, game production, and software engineering.

Gaming students hard at work Full Sail University gaming students hard at work.

Q: What’s a typical day in the life of a gaming student at your school?

A: Our course offerings emulate the real world as much as possible. So no matter their specific classes, students are fully immersed in project-based curricula that both expands their knowledge base and builds their skill-sets. The typical day for both undergraduate and graduate campus-based programs is four hours of coursework and four hours of lab work. The only difference in the schedule is that undergraduate students are on campus daily, and graduate students are on campus every other day. 

More specifically, Game Development undergrads take programming, data structure, and software engineering in the first half of their program. This allows them to develop a foundation in computer science and provides them with the knowledge needed to work across various industries. The second half of the program is focused on topics such as engine development, graphics, artificial intelligence (AI), and computer networks. Students learn how to build a game engine from scratch, including critical components like renderers, collision, and AI among others.  

The undergraduate Game Design program specializes in educating students on level design, technical design, and systems design. The master’s degree goes even further, breaking the program down into the four tracks: production, user experience (UX), Indie games, and serious games.

We also strategically equip students with the hardware and software they will need to succeed. Depending on the degree program they are enrolled in, students will have ownership over items like an MSI Laptop, an iPad, or Samsung tablet, among other pieces of hardware. Students can also take advantage of the many studios and labs on our campus. Students have access to over 110 facilities including Blackmoor Studios (game development studio), the UX lab, the Simulation lab, the AR/VR lab, the FabLab, and the Smart lab. Each studio and lab is equipped with industry standard technology and equipment.

Full Sail gaming students Full Sail gaming students.

Q: What are you most proud of with respect to your Game Design program?

A: In my role at Full Sail, I am uniquely positioned to oversee several degree programs, and I can truly say that I am most proud of the strength of our student population and their ability to apply the hands-on knowledge acquired in the classroom to professional settings. 

For example, our Game Design master’s degree program alone has four different tracks: production, UX, Indie games, and serious games. In the months leading up to the final project, through hands-on education from our top-notch professors, our students pinpoint the track that they want to focus on for their final project. 

The Game Design bachelor's program strikes a successful balance between theory and application. Students that excel in this program are adept at prototyping, unafraid of exploring unfamiliar features of the engine, and are independent problem solvers. In particular, the bachelor's program is very good at covering level design and player guidance principles.

Additionally, our Game Development degree program teaches students how to build and implement every component of a game. This includes programming a game engine, the renderer, the AI systems, animation and collision systems, and more. Several game studios use custom, proprietary game engines. Teaching students how to implement game components from scratch is a great foundation to have going into the industry.

Q: Do you have any noteworthy alumni?

A: I could talk for days about our noteworthy alumni! At the December 2021 Game Awards, we had over 150 Full Sail graduates working on nominated projects. These alums came from our gaming-centric programs as well as departments like computer animation and more.

Additionally, every year we induct graduates into the university’s Hall of Fame. The inductees are selected for their contributions to emerging technologies excellence, their creative inspiration and their overall determination and dedication. Some of the grads honored to date from within our Gaming and Emerging Technologies focused degree programs include Elbert Perez (Technical Lead at Stageverse), Erin Eberhardt (Project Director at Insomniac Games), Grant Shonkwiler (Game Designer/Producer/Consultant, Shonkventures and Founder & Executive Director at Game Developers Foundation), Jameson Durall (Advanced Senior Game Designer at Insomniac Games), Kerry Allen (Senior UI Programmer at id Software), Shaun McCabe (Head of Technology at Insomniac Games), and most recently Narie Kay (Senior Producer at Zynga), who will be inducted in March 2022.

It’s also important to mention that our Alumni Relations Department welcomes graduates back to campus (and virtually) throughout the year to participate in panels, workshops, lectures and more. This provides valuable insight to our current students. Just as critical, our Career Development department has done an amazing job helping place students in professional roles that align with their passions, and regularly hosts industry professionals and employers for networking and hiring events.

To learn more about Full Sail and other game design programs, click here.