Quickly, my focus shifted. Instead of dwelling on the negative, I would focus on what I could do to make this program succeed. The great thing is that gaming is as popular in Huntington, WV as it is anywhere in the U.S. My job is to learn as much as possible about game development and programming, then teach it to others. Who knows: in the future they could start their own studios and create a small industry here. However, if the students decided not to create their own local jobs, I needed an alternate route for them to still be successful and as much as I hate to admit it, give them a ticket to leave the area.
After seven years I have had what I would estimate around 40-50 students graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Animation and Game Development. This number may seem low to some, but understand that it takes two years minimum to complete this program. When you start a new degree, it can take 2-3 years to get students into the program and begin graduating them. A few of those students have done absolutely nothing with their degree. Several students are working for IT companies dealing with software application development. Some students are continuing their education towards a Bachelor’s Degree through articulation agreements with other Universities. Thankfully, a few of the students, who are working in software development and/or still in school, have created their own indie endeavors.
It is happening. It’s slow and steady, but it is happening. We are creating an industry here from the ground up. The college I work for–alongside a very small handful of other colleges within a two-hour radius of Huntington–is laying the foundation for the video game industry in Appalachia. I do not make this statement to brag or to take credit, but to show an example of just how big this industry is becoming.
To help furthermore with this, last fall we held the first ever West Virginia Game Developers Expo in Huntington. This was a huge step for the area and for local game development students. It was attended by local tech industry persons and game enthusiasts alike. It lit a little fire under a few folks, which has resulted in the creation of their own student indie game groups. Both 2812 Studio and All For One Studio are being ran by people currently still in school.
We see stories of companies folding and developers leaving studios because they were bored of the same old games. Mine, however, is the story of creation; the tale of a new group of game creators. With pride, I say that this a grassroots movement, with little funding and practically zero industry support. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
I live in Ohio but I work in Huntington, West Virginia, at a small community college. I have been a full-time instructor for seven years, and I was an adjunct-professor for a few years prior to that. When I speak about game development, I speak in terms covering all consoles, PC and web-based gaming. I am now a seasoned attendee of GDC, and I will be attending E3 as an industry member for the second time this June. I have learned a lot during this time: a lot about the game industry, but even more about living in the Appalachian region and trying to build a market for game developers.