The game design program at UM-Dearborn has always been small, but by a variety of measures, it’s always been successful. In the late-1990s, when UM-Dearborn would have been considered an early adopter, its program was ranked in the top 10 nationally. Within a few years, it boasted alumni like Austin Krauss (’05 M.S.), one of the developers of Call of Duty, one of the biggest video games ever. Even nowadays, in an era where Maxim says just about every college has some gaming curriculum, UM-Dearborn consistently earns a top 50 ranking. It still has a reputation as one of the stronger programs for coding and project management, when so many other colleges and universities have turned to game art.
What defines success for students in the gaming program varies quite a bit. Unlike many subjects in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, which route graduates toward specific careers, the path after game design is fluid. Today, Maxim says former students are finding their skills are in demand in the growing virtual reality space — as well as anything requiring simulation. (One graduate, for example, is now building simulations for NASA.) Even within gaming, there are multiple paths. Just as the internet’s disruption of the music industry meant artists no longer needed a major label or radio play to build an audience, people who want to build games don’t have to go work for or pitch their projects to the big companies. Maxim says app-based games now make up more than half of worldwide game revenue. And their free and open distribution through app stores means that anyone can build a game and get it out there if they have the skills, vision and determination to market it. Moreover, there is a growing niche market for indie games.