Marc Aubanel began making video games at age 14 when his high school in Montreal received a lab full of Apple IIc computers. “The teachers did not know how to use them, and we begged the principal to let us use the lab after school,” Aubanel says. “As soon as we started using the computers, we were playing games. Quickly it turned to us making our own text adventure games.”
His childhood hobby became a career, and he worked as a video game development professional in Toronto and Vancouver for 16 years. After reaching higher levels in the field as an executive producer and vice president, he decided to get back to his roots building games, and he transitioned to academics. Now, as LSU’s director of Digital Media Arts & Engineering, Aubanel works to champion the field inside and outside the university.
“We want to help grow the local video game development community and help to make it more successful,” he says. “We run events that are related to the field and open to everyone in the state.”
We spoke with Aubanel about the programs and activities available through DMAE, and about the potential for the field.
A GROWING INDUSTRY IN LOUISIANA
You may picture California as the place to be when you think of the video gaming industry, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. About 40 percent of game-development jobs are based in California, Aubanel says, but that’s changing, and Louisiana has a lot of potential for growth in the industry. The state already has the presence of four major companies — Electronic Arts, Gameloft, inXile and High Voltage — and the cost of living is more affordable than in California.
Last year, LSU held its first Video Game Symposium, with panels, group discussions and presentations by speakers involved with the games “Halo,” “FIFA” and “Guild Wars.” This year’s version of the symposium, to be held April 28, will be bigger, spanning two days as part of the Redstick Festival.
“The Video Game Symposium gives students a chance to meet and talk with leaders in their field,” he says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the people who have contributed significantly to the success of this burgeoning field.”
Additionally, DMAE hosts a participation site for the annual Global Game Jam. This year the local participants were part of the largest jam in the world, with over 36,000 professional and amateur participants worldwide, he says.
FRESH WAYS TO UPGRADE YOUR SKILLS
Aubanel runs the new DMAE master’s degree program, which is the first of its kind in Louisiana. Students can receive an M.S. through the interactive media and entertainment technology program that lets them work in teams to solve problems using industry-standard tools and pipelines, he says.
Also, there is a DMAE minor for undergraduates that offers skills for careers in video game development, film, animation, web development and digital media. The minor program works in conjunction with other schools and departments.
“This gives students a chance to interact with peers with like interests in other colleges and schools around campus,” Aubanel says. “This more accurately reflects the workforce, as most digital media companies have a combination of art, computer science, design, music, business and other disciplines reflected in their teams.”
OPPORTUNITIES ACROSS DISCIPLINES
Game development is an achievable career goal with few boundaries at this point, and skills learned through it can translate into many different fields, Aubanel says.
For example, at the Game Developer Conference in 2016, SpaceX recruited game programmers for its flight program, and the skills of game developers are employed in most high-tech businesses, he says.
“I don’t think there is a field that has not been dramatically affected by work done in the game-development industry,” he says. “The industry is a meritocracy, and if you are hard-working, passionate and devoted, there is a role for you to play.”