The following post was written by Jon Preston, who serves as faculty in the College of Computing and Software Engineering and as the faculty Executive Assistant to the President at Kennesaw State University.
For the past eight years, Kennesaw State University has hosted software development weekends for students, hobbyists, and industry professionals. We’re empowering creativity through 48-hour sprints.
What do you get when you put 2D and 3D artists, computer programmers, audio engineers and composers, and designers in the same room? Amazing creations emerge that stretch the bounds of what’s possible with interactive computing and media.
In January, Kennesaw State University hosted its 13th game development weekend, or “game jam.” Since humble beginnings in 2009 with 14 attendees, we’ve grown to host some of the largest collaboration events in the world, each boasting 300+ participants and creating 50+ game and media prototypes all within 48 hours. Bringing together local talent from on and off campus, jam weekends are a part of movement at Kennesaw State to create an ecosystem of interdisciplinary collaboration, creativity, and camaraderie. Musicians create scores and sound effects, artists digitally paint backgrounds and sculpt 3D models, and programmers code 3D scenes and design interfaces. It’s a chaotic, yet amazingly-productive weekend that culminates in prototype demos that showcase the talent of interdisciplinary teams.
Hosting these development weekends is only possible through the great partnerships Kennesaw State has formed over the years. The College of Computing and Software Engineering, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of the Arts partnered with IgniteHQ, Cobb County’s premier tech incubator, to host the 2016 Global Game Jam.
As an entrepreneurial incubator focused on growing the inventor community in North Georgia, IgniteHQ is a perfect partner for the community we’re building and empowering at our game jam weekends. IgniteHQ’s leaders Nancy Whatley and Catherine Pearson helped coach the teams to think big and plan for a place for their creations in the real world beyond Game Jam.
At our most recent Game Jam, Kennesaw State University was one of over 600 venues hosting a robust group of the 36,000 total participants worldwide. Business partners like Chaotic Good Studios, Adaptive Studios, Chuice, High Road Craft Ice Cream & Sorbet, Kontrol Freek, and the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program provided snacks, prizes, and follow-up job opportunities.
Teams had 48 hours to develop games centered around a theme or a single topic. While teams are free to deviate from the denoted theme if they need, those teams that stick to the theme are eligible for awards and prizes. Most participants agree being thematically constrained actually helps them be more creative.
We partner with local businesses to focus attention on needed solutions to industry problems. In recent years, KSU jams have worked with notable partners such as Home Depot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Health and Human Services Department to develop games and interactive media focused on food-borne illness, HIV awareness and prevention, mobile consumer retail, and online 3D social virtual reality. These type of partnerships ensure the jams’ themes are relevant and useful to industry. Furthermore, participants develop games with the potential to expand
in the the tech market.
The Entertainment and Games Industry in Georgia
Just as Kennesaw State’s game jams have grown in size over the years, the interactive entertainment industry in Georgia has continued to expand. Film, TV, commercials, music videos, and video game productions have grown from $413 million in 2008 to more than $6 billion in statewide economic impact in 2015. This is fueled not only by the talent within the state but also by the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act which was signed into law in 2008 and provides up to a 30% tax credit to incentivize interactive entertainment production in Georgia.
Over 30,000 entertainment professionals now work in Georgia. Kennesaw State and other universities are helping to create opportunities for our students to build their resumes and career networks in the entertainment industry. In addition to hosting invited speakers from industry partners (such as Tripwire Interactive and Marxent Labs) to talk with students, Kennesaw State’s Computer Game Design and Development program works with state experts. Asante Bradford, Project Manager within Digital Entertainment at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, is a regular partner at our jam weekends and our game development program. Andrew Greenberg, President of the Georgia Game Developers Association, helps judge the games developed at our jams and invites the best teams to showcase their creations at the Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo (SIEGE).
We have a broad focus on entertainment that extends beyond the state. Kennesaw State University was named a GRAMMY Museum® University Affiliate in 2015 under the leadership of Keith Perissi, director of the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business program. We’re working with Keith to collaborate and bridge the gap between computing, music, and artistic talent – drawing together teams of students from all of these disciplines. As an example of this, Perissi has led study abroad programs that visited with Sony Music Studio in London. We’re working to add Sony’s London Game Studio and game students to this trip in the future.
Increasingly, we are seeing collaboration between film, TV, books, music, and games as these entities leverage common intellectual property to create a series of products. Kennesaw State is providing opportunities for our students to take part in this continuum of platforms for their own creative works. Kennesaw State recently partnered with Sony Computer Entertainment of America to open a state-of-the-art Sony PlayStation 4 lab. This lab is one of only a handful in the nation that provides access to development kits for students to build games for the PS4 and the upcoming Sony PlayStation Virtual Reality headset.
A Launching Pad for Success
Building games and interactive media is a direct focus of these jam events, but Kennesaw State has a broader goal. We want to see our students and community partners make lasting connections and launch new businesses. KSU’s new partnership with Cobb County’s premier tech incubator IgniteHQ further ensures the success of our students!
Many Game Jam teams continue their work past the competition. In past years, teams who succeeded during the jam weekend (and received “Best-Of” awards) have gone on to submit their games for industry review at other competitions such as the Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo (SIEGE) and the International Conference of Game Jams, Hackathons and Game Creation Events (ICGJ). Furthermore, now these teams have a real opportunity to take their inventions to the next level by joining IgniteHQ. IgniteHQ provides a nurturing environment where students can continue work on the technology while learning to produce, market and profit from their inventions.
Closer to home, participants in these co-curricular development weekends are more successful in their academic studies and are more engaged in university life. Students increasingly connect with new friends and professors while deepening their understanding and appreciation for what others bring to a team. We hear constantly from industry partners that companies want to hire students that know their domain well, are able to work well within a team and can add value to the overall business. These jam weekends provide a perfect opportunity for students to not only hone their domain abilities, but also learn the imperative skills of resolving creative differences, valuing individual team members and collaborating towards a common end goal. Such an experience has life-long value.
At the end of the jam, attendees have new material to add to their professional portfolio, new connections in their social media and professional networks, and possible new jobs and internships. Companies who’ve partnered with us have a broader market visibility among college-age demographic groups, new ideas on how to solve their business problems, and have identified new employees from the talent pool of the best teams. It’s a win-win all around for everyone involved!
It is our hope that teams from our jam events will proceed to launch new ideas, form businesses, and partner with other startups and established companies to advance our region’s business community.
For more information about events, news, and opportunities to partner with KSU’s game and interactive media development, please visit ksugames.blogspot.com or email Dr. Jon A. Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Preston serves as faculty in the College of Computing and Software Engineering and as the faculty Executive Assistant to the President at Kennesaw State University. He works to bring together groups from different fields and expand opportunities for students and businesses in the Kennesaw State University region.