industry wants programmers comfortable in cross-disciplinary teams.
Effect on the uSC CS Department
How has the game-degree program
affected USC’s Computer Science Department, nudging it along toward the
conceptual age? First, I must say we
have not dismantled the traditional
bachelor’s program in computer science, and students continue to enroll
in it. Computer science and games
students share almost the same core
computer science curriculum.
Enrollment concerns were part of
our original motivation with respect
to the games program, though they
have eased, as they have for many
departments, according to the Computing Research Association’ annual
Taulbee Survey ( http://www.cra.org/
statistics/). For the Fall 2009 semester, 29% of the students in the USC
bachelor’s in computer science program are in the games program, representing an important influence on
While we have not measured it,
probably the greatest effect we see is
an apparent “joy of computing” feeling by our students who come to class
highly motivated, pour their best
ideas into their projects, and produce
spectacularly creative results, some
of which the game industry wants to
commercialize. The graduating students who move into positions in the
game industry return to subsequent
Demo Days, bring their bosses, and
hire more of our graduates. The addi-
tion of a creative-design component
and making it student-driven and stu-dent-dependent is key to this success.
Students take ownership of their educational program and aspire to make
everything they do shine.
Another component worth mentioning is the commitment of the program’s faculty and instructors. The
students are in small classes where
they have much say in direction and
result. The faculty is available to provide technical guidance, mentorship,
motivation, and support. It is physically draining if done properly, but if
the students recognize their passion
for games, they cannot help but be
passionate game developers as well.
Faculty working directly with our program are the executive producers of
some 12 to 14 games per semester.
The results of these efforts are visible
on the USC GamePipe Web site (http://
We have also been able to create
a line of research funding based on
and around games.
11 It is more than
difficult to build an R&D program on
games without a pipeline of students
learning to build them. Today, we have
both. The games program has additionally strengthened the reputation
of USC’s Computer Science Department in terms of increased R&D funding, improved hiring rates for graduates, attention to the games program
in the press, invitations to games fac-
ulty to speak at conferences and publish in traditional venues, and other
universities desiring to copy USC’s
success. In Fall 2008, the director of
the USC GamePipe Laboratory was appointed an ACM Distinguished Speaker ( http://www.dsp.acm.org/) in recognition of the program’s achievement.
Hiring managers and developers in
the games industry now regard us as
one of the “best games programs,”
though we are only in our fourth year
of operation. Moreover, traditional
USC computer science faculty not currently involved in the games program
have begun to ask how they can participate, some have changed their course
projects to be game-related, and many
ask how we can draft proposals together. The computer science faculty
realizes that something important is
happening, with some beginning to
also guide their own programs toward
the conceptual age.
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© 2009 ACM 0001-0782/09/1200 $10.00
PHO TOGRAPH B Y MiCHAeL Z YDA/USC GAMePiPe LABORATORY
Michael Zyda ( email@example.com) is the director of the USC
GamePipe Laboratory and a professor of engineering
practice in the Department of Computer Science at the
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.