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  • Identifying a Good Game School

    [03.30.10]
    - Ian Schreiber and Lewis Pulsipher

  • Ownership of IP

    Question to ask: Who owns the intellectual property rights to games that are created by students?

    What to look for: Ideally, the students should own all copyright and other intellectual property ownership of the projects they create while they are students.

    What to do: Decide if this matters to you. Some people don't care, because they aren't planning on selling anything they make as a student anyway. Some people care, but they're willing to compromise on this (maybe by just not using their favorite game ideas until after they graduate) in order to go to a school that is otherwise their choice. For some people, this is a deal-killer.

    What to watch out for: Some schools explicitly state that they own all rights to all student work. Probably the most notorious example of this was Team Toblo (a good story to read for why IP ownership might matter to you as a student). Other schools do not have an official policy at all, which is a signal that they haven't thought about it yet in spite of it being a legal and public relations minefield.

    In these cases, proceed with caution, because the rights may be legally unclear and the last thing you need as a student is to get involved in a legal battle. Still other schools have restrictions: they own the rights to anything you create using university resources (such as computer labs or printers), but a project you make on your own with your own equipment is 100% yours, so there's a way to own your work if it matters to you. Mainly, the important thing is to be aware of the official policy before it becomes an issue... and if you think the policy is suboptimal and you plan on attending anyway, consider taking it upon yourself to push for policy change.

    While we might suppose that some schools are trying to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits by this provision, they could do so in a much less draconian way. They could have students sign an agreement similar to many used by many publishers in the industry, stating that if the school issues a game similar to anything the student created while at the school, the student has no legal recourse. This leaves the student owner of his or her own intellectual property, and in cases of clear "theft" there is still an opening for a lawsuit.

    Focus on Game Creation

    Question to ask: Can I see a syllabus for some of the game classes this school offers? (Sometimes these will be posted online.)

    What to look for: In the syllabus, see if the topics are specific to games, or more generalized to other media. If you want to make games, specifically, then you'll want classes that have readings and homework that involves games -- not movies, not literature, and not the World Wide Web. Of course, the reverse is true if you want game development to be only one option of many.

    Are they offering game-related classes because they really like games and believe in the future of games, or because "games" is a magic word that really draws students?

    What to do: Look through the syllabi that you receive, paying close attention to the assignments (readings and projects). If there is a textbook, find it at your local library or book store and skim through it, or see if excerpts to read are online at Amazon. If a syllabus is not available, ask some students who have taken the classes if they might have an old one; at the very least, ask them if the class is about video games or if that's only part of it. Also search the public website; occasionally you'll find that certain parts of a course are unrestricted access.

    What to watch out for: A lot of classes (and majors!) have titles that sound like they focus on games, but then you find out that they don't. A few examples:

    • "Nonlinear Storytelling." This might be a class about interactive stories in video games. Or, it might deal with stories in other media that are told out of order, like the movies Memento and Pulp Fiction.
    • "Digital Media Production." Could mean game production, in the sense of actually creating a video game. Or it could be game production in the sense of teaching you how to be a producer (dealing with scheduling and budgets). Or it could be either of those things for other media, like movie production. Or it could be special effects, like audio/video post-production for movies.
    • "Introduction to Interactive Multimedia." This might be an obfuscated way to say "intro to video games" or it might be a class in Web page design or Flash programming.

    In short, if you know exactly what you want from your program of study, make sure you're going to get it!

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