Making the Grade: College course shows lucrative side of gaming

And all that time you thought your kid was just messing around playing video games. In fact, such a pastime might be preparing your student to take on the challenges of an academic program winning accolades at Kennesaw State University.

The school’s Computer Game Design and Development department in the College of Computing and Software Engineering has students transforming basic gaming skills into tools for building more than new games. They’re also focused on creating programs for educational and business use. Recently, the Princeton Review ranked KSU as one of the top 50 schools in the world for game design.

“When we talk about our program, it’s not only gaming,” said Rongkai Guo, assistant professor of gaming who joined the Computing and Software department last year. “We teach kids how to develop and design, but it’s really about acquiring computer science knowledge. These kids are also very good programmers who also know how to computer graphics work and can write a game story. And that’s a plus.”

Guo, whose research area is focused on virtual reality and gaming, has seen the interest in this type of program explode in the last five years. “That’s because the game engine has developed so well; you don’t have to reinvent it,” he said. “At the same time, Google and Facebook are making those awesome hardwares that are becoming more affordable. For instance, an Oculus Rift (headgear for virtual reality games) is a $600 device that used to be at least $3,000.”

Since its inception in 2008, enrollment in the four-year gaming program has steadily increased to more than 300 students. One of main objectives is to inspire students to come up with games that are “serious and educational,” said Guo, with applications beyond entertainment. During the spring semester this year, two students did just that, working collaboratively with youngsters at Dunleith Elementary in Marietta and the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics to come up with a fun way to learn economics.

Alpharetta natives Michael Williams, a senior, and Drew Savas, a junior, designed a program that incorporated market fluctuation, availability of goods and money management in a way kids could grasp.

“It’s set up on the idea that a kid wants a hot, new game console, but Dad says they have to earn the money, so they build lemonade stands,” said Williams. “They get to manage the stands, control the market, figure out how to produce product and how much they need.”

Coming up with an educational program fit the program’s goals by taking the two into a new realm. “It was very different from designing games to entertain teenagers,” said Savas.

But designing games has a future, say the friends who recently launched their own start-up.

“I think people are surprised you can make money doing this,” said Williams. “Video games have been grossing more than TV and movies. Right now, a start-up in this area is one of the more viable business models.”

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