Fanshawe College’s winning strategy for its game design program

In Canada's largest game tech hub outside major cities, Fanshawe students learn career-focused game design from industry pros.

Fanshawe College Game Design Program

Fanshawe College. (Fanshawe College)

For a generation weaned on the Internet, there couldn’t be a dreamier job than video game development. And for parents, the idea that kids might make money from their addiction sounds too good to be true. Thus pretty much every college these days has a gamification program. So how does a school building a new program stand out?

When Fanshawe College in London, Ont., was designing its three-year certificate program, it turned to the burgeoning gaming industry in the region for advice, says Robert Reichhardt, a professor, curriculum coordinator in the school of contemporary media, and program coordinator for the video-game design and development program that launched in September 2015. Designers, animators, producers and art directors in the local video game industry teach the 2D and 3D skills for modelling, animation, texturing, anatomy and drawing needed to secure an entry-level position as a concept artist, animator and game designer.

The school’s 3D animation and character design program, a one-year post-grad diploma, has been in place for seven years. Both programs are housed in the brand-new Centre for Digital and Performance Arts, in the city’s downtown.

“We thought we would launch with 40 students, but with demand we increased capacity to 160,” says Reichhardt. “London and southwest Ontario is the largest hub of the industry outside Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.”

PROFILE: Fanshawe College | London, Ont. | Founded 1967

Instead of a co-op program, students spend the year doing case studies. “These companies have proprietary concerns, so we can’t send students in. Instead, we bring the industry to the students, who bring them real-world problems to solve in real time.”

Of course, equipment is the heart of any tech program, and Reichhardt says the program’s 3D printer has revolutionized production. But he is particularly proud that the college bought the same $100,000 motion-capture system used by London’s star video-game developer, Digital Extremes, makers of Warframe, Star Trek and The Darkness II.

Reichhardt is often asked if being a skilled gamer makes you a good candidate. He says yes, to a point: “Playing games, you develop the eye, learn what makes characters fun to play with, and you understand the story, and the psychology. But this is a technical program, so a capacity for digital technology and programs such as Photoshop are as necessary as strong drawing skills. Your first year, a third of your time is spent drawing.”

Claudette Critchley is COO of Big Blue Bubble Inc., Canada’s largest independent mobile gaming company, also based in London. Its development credits include Home Sweet Home, Burn the Rope and the top-grossing global game franchise My Singing Monsters. Critchley has hired many Fanshawe grads for a variety of positions. “We find them to be highly talented, and well-suited to our workplace.”

The fact the school was willing to listen to employers when developing courses and programs has resulted in a close collaboration.

“Fanshawe has been a strong contributor to the needs of industry in this space, producing qualified graduates with the skills and background needed for the modern tech environment,” she says.

The list of words she uses to describe the attributes she looks for in a new hire is long, and rich: imagination, self-expression, genius, resilient enthusiasm, integrity, inclusion and participation. And, of course, there is the desire to live long and prosper in an alternate dimension of reality.

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