Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pitch Yourself

My Art of Game Design class is a 9 week course block focused on doing exactly what it sounds like: designing games.  For the first three weeks of the course, each student is required to individually design a new game and share it in a 3 minute presentation to the class on Friday.  For the last 5-6 weeks, students work in teams on a single game that they polish to a high level (digital games are fully programmed and have custom digital art, strategy games are balanced through excessive play-testing, physical games have 3D-printed pieces and clear, printed rules, etc.).

Sitting between the two parts of the quarter is Pitch Day.  That was today.

On Pitch Day, each student gets up to 3 minutes to share a game idea, a sales pitch for why they would make a great teammate for someone else's game, or a combination of the two.  About 1/3 of the students focused heavily on the game idea itself, trying to draw others to their team.  The other 2/3 focused more on their own value-add with a team.  It was fascinating to see students pitch their programming skills (or desire to learn), promise to dedicate an hour or more every single night to work on the team project, or desperately offer to supply a team with creative ideas and donuts during late night game design parties if they could join a team.  I was worried students wouldn't take the process seriously, but it honestly felt like I sat through a 1-hour interview with 24 candidates today.  Almost everyone wanted a "job".

Part of the motivation behind an effective pitch is how teaming works, something I explained in detail last week to students:

  • Nobody is required to work on a team.  It does not hurt your chance to get a good grade if you work solo.  Last year, both the highest and lowest grades in the class came from students with solo games.  It is not dishonorable to go it alone, though I do my best to encourage students to look for a team since it makes the class more fun and generally makes the games higher quality.
  • Each team has an owner.  This person makes all hiring decisions.  He or she does not have to hire anybody.  He or she can fire anyone on the team, but like any business, there is a long process involved in firing.
  • A full time hire means that the other person is permanently on the team unless fired.  To fire someone, the owner must approach me and sit through a few rounds of mediation.  After several sessions, if this does not address the underlying issue, I will allow the owner to fire someone.  This never had to be used last year.
  • If an owner wants to hire someone but has doubts about their willingness to fully commit, they can offer an internship.  This gives the other person a week and a half to meet specified criteria in order to be upgraded to a full hire.  If they do not meet the criteria, they will be off the team.
  • The owner cannot be fired.  However, teammates can abandon an owner at any time to work on a competing game.  The game rights in the class (and legally) belong fully to the game owner, so teammates will need to create a different game if they take this route.
Last year, most students worked on physical games and heavily utilized the 3D printer for game pieces.  This year, 75% of students want to build something digital, most using the Unity 3D game engine.  I wonder if it bothers anyone that I have never used Unity in my life, but I am supposedly the teacher of this class?  So far, nobody even mentioned it.  Given the high interest this year, I do plan to learn alongside the students so I can be a more helpful resource.  I will also encourage students to build a new online network of game designers who can assist them as they run into challenges.

As teams start to form and ideas start to gain traction, I am excited to see where this all goes.  I plan to start sharing more student work as it gets developed over the next month.  Stay tuned!


  1. What a great activity here! True life practices!

    1. Thanks, that's the hope! Lots of iteration to come on the concept.

  2. This is very exciting! I honestly can say I have never had any desire to design a game until now! Your class sounds very engaging, not only in game designing but the real world practices you have built in as well. The two things I am most curious to hear more about are: how your learning Unity develops over the course alongside the students and what strategies you are using in order to help your students build their network of game designers. Looks like I am going to have to visit the high school sometime soon!

    1. We will see which route I tech with tech skill building for myself. Yesterday, I spent a large portion of class helping a team set up their team collaboration tools, a software skill that I had coming in that was necessary for their work but not Unity-specific. It will be interesting to see how many more of those kinds of skills will be necessary.

      For network building, I am much more nervous. I have had incredible amounts of outreach from game designers on Twitter in the last 2 days, so now I am going to try to connect them to my students. I also decided to go the route of a class blog to make it easier for me to monitor their updates and provide feedback, especially when I am away. If they do good work there, it will be easy to copy/paste/edit that work into other forums where game designers are more likely to stumble on it.

  3. This sounds awesome! I really love how real-world you have made this class. It seems challenging and motivating for the students and really unique from other typical high school classes. I like the idea of your class blog as well. It will be interesting to see how the input of expert game designers affects the results!

    1. Thanks Katie. The blog has been interesting, as I have been underwhelmed by their work thus far and self-conscious about sharing it out. It doesn't pass my test, so why would it pass from an authentic audience? Since I make them iterate each week on a new post and I give them feedback in between, I am hoping that eventually they will all be of a much higher quality at the end of the course.