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Help Me Flip My Game Production Class
by David Mullich on 08/13/13 12:00:00 pm   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Last week I began teaching a game production course at The Los Angeles Film School. I've been a member of the school's Game Program Advisory Committee for the past couple of years and gotten to know the staff, and when a position opened up for a new Course Director (as they call their instructors), they offered me the job. Since I had given a number of talks about game design and production in recent months and enjoyed the experience, I accepted, provided that I could fit the hours in around my full-time job.

And so on Tuesday I began teaching a 60-hour course entitled Survey of the Video Game Industry, an introductory course covering game design, game history, business of games, games and society, and quality assurance (many of the students' first-time job in the industry will be as a tester). With only a little over a week to prepare my materials, I put together some powerpoints and organized the course around a 3-hour lecture and a 3-hour lab that I would present every other day. (The term lasts one month, so the class a total of 10 days, each with 6-hour sessions.)

My first class went well, but I had previously committed to attending an educational technology conference with my wife, a high school art teacher, that Thursday, and so a substitute teacher took over my second day of class.

The conference, called Education in a Changing World, was held at Monte Vista Christian School, which I learned was the first school in the country to base their entire curriculum around an iPad. This was the third educational technology event I attended this year, but it was still an eye-opener in terms of how education is changing in this country.

A hot topic among educators is flipping the classroom. In a traditional classroom, the teacher would spend time in class lecturing about a topic and then assign the students work to do at home. However, educators are now advocating reversing this teaching model so that teachers deliver instruction at home through interactive, teacher-created videos and moves “homework” to the classroom. Some of the advantages of this approach are that it:

  • Gives teachers more time to spend 1:1 helping students
  • Builds stronger student/teacher relationships
  • Produces the ability for students to “rewind” lessons
  • Creates a collaborative learning environment in the classroom
  • Allows more advanced students to mentor less advanced students

Another trend is project-based learning. This is a learning approach that is, as the name implies, based around the students doing projects, especially group projects. That advantages to these activities are that they are more engaging for the students and provides them with opportunities to develop such skills as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and communication.

Now I am eager to try out both approaches in my own class: I have lots of experience in creating Powerpoints and videos, so flipping my class by putting my lectures online is no problem for me, and game production is inherently project-based. However, my students are too inexperienced to do actual game development, and so I would like your help in coming up with ideas for projects they can do during the few hours we have together in each class session.

Here are the topics that I am covering in my class:

  • Communication and professionalism
  • How a game is different from an activity
  • Game design: terms, principles, prototyping, playtesting
  • History of computer and mobile games
  • History of console and handheld games
  • Game development: prepoduction, production and postproduction
  • Game publishing: the greenlight process
  • Quality assurance
  • Politics, race, sex and violence in games
  • The impact of games on society
  • Managing your career

Here are some of examples of the activities I've already planned:

  • Write a game review of your favorite game. You may do it as a blog, paper, powerpoint, rap or video.
  • Look up the twitter accounts of four well-known game designers. Compile a list of four other game people in the industry that they follow, and write a reason for why you think they are worth following.
  • Play one of the simple games I've brought into class with two other students. Suggest a rule change and write down your prediction of how it will affect the gameplay. Observe the other students as they play the game with the rule change and write down their reactions. Do the same with two other rule changes.

What are some of your ideas for other activities that introduce students to the topics I need to cover? Write them down in the comments below.

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Mark Saltmarsh
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Maybe game testing would be an area that a student might want to look at.

Christian Nutt
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You might want to talk to Chris Totten. Look at what he accomplished with a group of campers!

Tom Broadwood
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Very great approach. I'm doing a Game's course in australia at the moment and we have nothing like this. I'd love to have this kind of approach.

Laura Bularca
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Nice idea! My suggestion: Choose a game and report a few bugs in a proper manner (this would require to take a look over a bug reporting tool, and figure out how to properly report your issue, including repro rates and clear repro steps).

Keith Fuller
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An exercise I frequently have people run through when I teach Agile practices is yours for the taking:

Have the class break itself into groups -- I usually aim for 4-5 people each. The goal is to create a product backlog for a timer app on a smartphone. I purposefully leave it just that broad so that the students fill it in as they see fit, letting their imagination take over (some think of it as a stopwatch, some a cooking timer, etc). The product backlog they create must be exactly 10 items, so they need to think in terms of buckets of features. They might at first have 5 different things that pertain to UI, but when they have to whittle the list down to 10 items, all 5 of those might get lumped into a feature called "engaging UI" for example.
Just the discussion amongst the team members tends to bring out features that some on the team would not have thought of, such as how to promote the app to others. As an additional exercise I ask the groups to prioritize the backlog and/or break down the first three features into smaller features.

Dave Pimm
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Hi David,
I recently inherited a games design module and have noticed a handful of key gaps which I'm attempting to caulk.
Often, students don't really understand that they are making games for people, and so I'll be inviting the students to play a selection of games and to figure out who the games might have been developed for, and then to justify their reasoning. We'll look at user feedback and learn to decipher it, and will consider emotional responses from the perspective of fun and from story. And given the amount of interest in storytelling amongst our students, I'll be covering the components of narrative, story, and plot, referring to a variety of media.
FYI, I recently saw an online course on MMOs which is actually taught inside an MMO! I thought that was inspired - the ultimate virtual classroom!

Carly Kocurek
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I've had students complete a research scavenger hunt in class -- I put them in small groups and give everyone a list of questions and task them with finding answers to those questions using credible sources. The first group to get all the answers usually gets a small prize of some kind. I have had students do it for copyright policy issues that might impact their work, but I think it could also work for industry and player demographic data, or financial information related to the industry.

Many of my colleagues use structured group debates as an assignment; I think this could be adapted to most subjects. Again, put students in groups, assign a pro/con type issue, and have them complete the research (outside class or during a research session) and then have them present the debate formally in class.

Peer review of written assignments, resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and all kinds of things is really effective.

David Mullich
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Great comments! Thank you, everyone!