UT, Blizzard Entertainment team up for video game academy


UT has partnered with leaders in the video game industry to start a graduate-level video game academy that will open in the fall of 2014 at the University.

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy is being developed and led by industry veteran Warren Spector and Paul Sams, the chief operating officer of Blizzard Entertainment. Unlike other gaming institutions around the world, the UT program will offer a focus on leadership as opposed to just programming and design, Spector said.

“This is not like other programs. We’re trying to position it a little differently. What’s been lacking is a focus on creative and business leadership. There really aren’t any places that teach you how to be a game director or a producer.”  Spector said. “That understanding of art and commerce is something that I don’t think that a lot programs do very well. It is in the tension between those that great games are made.”

With Austin being one of the country’s largest contributors to the video game industry and home to several game studios, Spector said industry leaders have long felt the University needed to have a gaming program. With game development programs appearing at institutions around the world, Spector said the University wanted to build a graduate-level academy that would benefit from the input of industry leaders. After funding was secured from the Cain Foundation and the Sams family, the academy became a reality.

“We wanted to make sure that what we offered would be different. Our focus is on the collective skills that you need,” said Mike Wilson, director of the College of Communication Office of Development. “It’s a very unique program. It’s one that we think fills a void.”

After a highly competitive admissions process, the academy will accept 20 individuals each year who already possess skills in video game design and production and may already have experience in the industry. The University will pay for their tuition and give them a $10,000 stipend. They will participate in a 12-month program where they will learn to take a concept from the drawing board to the market. 

The program will be centered in the Radio-Television-Film Department in the College of Communication. However the College of Fine Arts and the Department of Computer Science will also significantly contribute to the program.

“It is going to be a cross-discipline effort,” Spector said. “Video games represent the most collaborative medium and the one that takes advantage of more disciplines than any other.”

Spector, who received his masters from UT and has worked as a producer on several video game series in his career, said he believes the program will offer students a chance get ahead in the industry faster.

“I am assuming that people are going to come in with exceptional skills and a desire to take the next step,” Spector said. “There is a dues paying period that you have to go through [in the industry]. What this program is going to do is to take people who aspire to leadership positions and shorten their dues paying period.”

The academy is not UT’s first venture into video games. There is currently an undergraduate program offered at the University called the Game Development Program.

The academy will soon begin a national search for a program director. Spector will continue to serve as a co-chair on the board of advisors and plans on teaching some classes at the academy.

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.