Club aims to introduce students to rising video game industry


Courtesy of the Game Development Club

Senior Zachary Koehn works on creating and importing animations for his senior project mixed reality Hololens game. 

Jake Dalbey

The year is 1985, and a team of five game developers worked for nearly two years to create Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

It went on to become not only the best-selling video game of the year, but also the best-selling game until that point in time.

Consisting of 8-bit graphics, the game’s simplicity ultimately helped lift a young and dying form of entertainment to a dominating force.

Flash forward nearly 32 years and Grand Theft Auto V, one of the highest grossing video game and entertainment product of all time, was developed at a cost of $265 million with a team of more than a thousand collaborators.

Much like the world of film, the video game industry is one of constant change and innovation, however, questions still arise about the legitimacy of the profession.

The Game Development Club at Iowa State aims to break down the barriers between students and the industry by offering a social atmosphere to play, learn and connect.

Despite its name, the group isn’t focused entirely on the production of a game and its release.

“You don’t have to want to go into game design, but if you enjoy thinking about games critically, then this is the club for you,” Zachary Koehn, former club president and senior in software engineering, said. ”You don’t have to know anything. It’s about thinking like a developer through art, music and design.”

Koehn, who wishes to pursue a career in game design after graduation, helped reform the club several years ago to create a place where creative hopefuls could gather and work on projects.

Currently a co-creator of his own game studio, Low Tier Studio, Koehn sees the club as an opportunity for anyone to get a taste of what it’s like to create a video game. Because of the vast amount of elements that work together to create a video game, the club is always seeking members outside of the traditional programming realm.

“We have many coders, but we try every semester to try and gain more writers and musicians,” Koehn said. “It’s just a very niche market.” 

Though it’s easy to assume meetings would mostly consist of sitting behind a computer screen, the club does its best to evoke creativity among its members.

This can be seen through sessions relating to game budgets, marketing, character design and more. Because of the casual nature of meetings, students are encouraged to embrace their talents, as different teams need different spaces filled.

Jacob Stair, current club president and sophomore in software engineering, sees a mix of both hobbyists and career seekers within the club, a variety that gives the group many ways of approaching meetings.

“There’s a few that are interested in games as a career as well as some who wish to be in it as a hobby,” Stair said. “We try our best to make it a club that focuses on a career side of the industry so those that are serious can get some experience.”

Part of the experience comes in the form of “Game Jams,” which take place twice a semester in conjunction with the Game Development Club. Development groups are created by students, with each member specializing in different skills such as level design, where 48 hours are given to create the most entertaining game possible.

Though the jams are considered low pressure, Stair hopes that participants can use the games created within the competition to get their foot into various industry employers.

Because of the stigma related to gaming and gamers, particularly violent and controversial products, both presidents found it equally difficult to be fully respected among other forms of art.

“It felt like I was fighting the college the whole time [during rework] because people laugh at game design here the same as they would do anywhere else,” Koehn said. “Computer science professors don’t see it as real programming, and it’s also as if we’re fighting the graphic design school because they don’t recognize it either.”

Iowa State does not currently offer a major program in game design, however, various colleges offer classes designed around video game concepts such as ARTIS 409, which deals with computer/video game design.

Because of the large revenue stream associated with many Triple A game releases, the video game industry as a whole is growing faster than ever. According to PwC Global, the industry is projected to grow to nearly $19 billion by 2019. As more students become interested in creating video games, Stair hopes to see colleges embrace more related programs.

“More and more students are becoming interested in programming,” Stair said. “If you look at software programming, that’s a newer major that’s very popular. I think the interest is for sure raising, but I’m not convinced that colleges will take it seriously.

“If you say in a class you’re a gamer, then they say, ‘That’s why you were late on an assignment,’ when in reality you’re doing it academically.”

Stair said professors who grew up playing consoles as children are able to see gaming as a serious hobby or career, but others may see it as a waste of time. Comparing the act of watching a film to playing a game, Stair sees the addition of film majors and minors as a reason for why video games should be seen in an academic sense.

With the advent of virtual reality gaming and augmented reality, Koehn sees a need for game designers even more because the medical field and military are requesting training simulations.

“Things you learn as a game designer can be applied to many other fields such as app and web design,” Koehn said. “It’s taken seriously but not in name if you say you’re a game designer. More and more designers are being brought up to things like VR in hospitals or the military because we know what we’re doing. It’s going to come to a point where we’ll have a new name for a game designer but not the stigma attached to those words.”

The Game Development Club meets every Monday at 7 p.m. in Durham 171. All skill levels and all design specialties are welcomed to join.