Berlin has distinguished itself as a vibrant epicentre for the gaming industry

The team of the Games Academy

For almost a quarter of a century, Games Academy has been teaching and mentoring the games professionals of tomorrow. In our interview, the whole team talks about the development of the institution, their special programs and courses, as well as Berlin as a hotspot for the industry.

Founded in 2000, the Games Academy is one of the oldest institutions in Europe to study specialized courses like Game Design, Game Programming, Game Art, and Game Production. How have the courses changed since their inception?

From our foundation in the year 2000, the Games Academy has been on a continual path of evolution to remain at the cutting edge of education in game development. Initially, our curriculum was heavily focused on the foundational aspects of game design and development. Nevertheless, the swift progression of technology and the dynamic shifts within the gaming industry itself necessitated an expansion of our curriculum to include specialised tracks in game art and production, in addition to programming and design, within the first few years.

What sets our programme apart is the pedagogical and methodological approach to teaching. The Academy benefits from an unparalleled network and exceptional contacts within the gaming industry, including numerous esteemed AAA industry lecturers, but also successful indie developers, who showcase the full spectrum of this vast and diverse industry. They dedicate their time to share their knowledge with the next generation of our trainees.

A notable feature of our course structure is the alternating weekly focus between theory and practical sessions. In these practical engagements, specialisations converge into smaller project teams, allowing participants to select the game genre and theme according to their preferences, thus driving the development and creation of games over several weeks in collaboration with designers, artists, programmers, and producers. Trainees run through a full production cycle in each semester, amounting to up to 5 projects at the end of their training, depending on their specialization. We emphasise interdisciplinary collaboration, recognising the importance of skills such as storytelling, user experience design, and project management in contemporary game development.

"Our approach mirrors real-life industry practices from the onset, transforming our trainees into genuine, employable experts. This is corroborated by our job placement rate post-training of up to 100% in some programs for the past 10 years," says Felix Günther, a game designer, producer, and Site Director and Head of Department at the Games Academy.

Moreover, our courses and especially the practical projects have evolved to integrate cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. Since 2016, the Academy's courses have been certified under ISO 9001 and AZAV, a testament to our continuous and rigorous quality management efforts. This has led to the state recognition of our courses as officially accredited training programmes.

We warmly endorse and support the Berlin Senate's initiative, which since 2020, has amended the Berlin Higher Education Act to enable graduates with a state-recognised vocational qualification to immediately and sometimes expedite their entry into an academic degree in Game Design at the Games Academy, without the previously required five years of professional experience. This initiative opens the door to an academic career for talented individuals without a high school diploma.

What’s your assessment of Berlin as a games location in comparison to the national and international competition?

Berlin has distinguished itself as a vibrant epicentre for the gaming industry, marked by an unparalleled blend of creativity, talent, and innovation. Compared to other national and international locales, Berlin stands out for its rich and dynamic ecosystem, encompassing indie studios, AAA developers, startups, and educational establishments like the Games Academy.

"The Academy benefits from its association with the mdh AI Institute of the Mediadesign University (mdh), our longstanding and exclusive media partner institution, and the latest research findings of the mdh AI Institute," Martin Adam shares.

The city's abundant cultural heritage and supportive governmental policies render it an appealing destination for game developers globally. Moreover, Berlin's reputation as a global technology hub offers access to top-tier talent, funding opportunities, and networking events. Overall, Berlin's status as a gaming hub presents an enticing amalgamation of creativity, entrepreneurship, and collaboration that distinguishes it on the international stage.

Please describe the school’s strategic partnership with the Whitecliffe College in New Zealand and how students profit from it.

Our strategic alliance with Whitecliffe College in New Zealand offers our students an invaluable opportunity for international exposure and the broadening of their horizons within the domain of game development. We are currently in the process of establishing the Games Academy programme at Whitecliffe College. This collaboration affords our trainees the chance to participate in exchange programmes, joint projects, and innovative initiatives.

"Studying abroad at Whitecliffe College, our trainees benefit from a diverse learning environment, access to state-of-the-art facilities, and exposure to different cultural perspectives. This experience not only enhances their skills and broadens their networks but also prepares them for success in the global gaming industry. Furthermore, our partnership fosters collaborative research projects and knowledge exchange between faculty members, significantly enriching the educational experience for both institutions," says Katrin Rahn, Deputy Director of the Games Academy.

AI is on the rise. How can AI help in the development of video games and how is it implemented in the curriculum?

Artificial intelligence is set to play a pivotal role in the future landscape of gaming. AI algorithms have the potential to significantly enhance gameplay experiences through the creation of dynamic and responsive environments, intelligent non-player characters, and adaptive difficulty levels. Our curriculum integrates AI concepts and techniques into relevant courses, such as game programming and artificial intelligence for games.

"Our students learn to implement AI algorithms for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to, enemy behaviour, procedural content generation, and player analytics. By grounding our graduates in AI principles, we equip them to harness this technology in crafting immersive and compelling gaming experiences," says Martin Adam, CEO and Director of the Games Academy.

Why did you create a combinatorial program of Economics and Games? What does it offer that the sole Game Production program does not?

"The integrative programme of Economics and Games, particularly anchored within our Producer track but also underlying other specialisations, reflects our commitment to providing our students with a holistic education that marries technical expertise with business acumen. In today's fiercely competitive gaming industry, a profound understanding of economic principles and market dynamics is indispensable for success," Martin Adam, CEO and Director of the Games Academy, explains.

"This unique programme furnishes students with a robust foundation in both game development and economics, empowering them to adeptly navigate the complexities of game production, distribution, and monetisation. By weaving economic theory, market analysis, and business strategy into the fabric of our curriculum, we prepare our graduates to excel not only as game developers but also as entrepreneurs, project managers, and industry leaders. Following the relaxation of the Berlin Higher Education Act, we especially encourage our most talented trainees who have demonstrated aptitude in management during their time at the Games Academy to pursue further studies in Media Management at the Mediadesign University. The remarkable aspect of this programme is its integration of industry experience with academic education, with the exclusive partnership of the Eicken Group from Berlin, boasting numerous branches worldwide, including in Silicon Valley and Shanghai. The Eicken Group initially championed the creation of this programme to inspire gamers in the realms of management and budgeting to also think entrepreneurially and assess games from this perspective. This programme serves as an excellent complement to our offerings in the production area," he adds.

The Games Academy is a private school. What are possibilities to finance one’s studies?

"We recognise that financing one's studies can be a significant concern for many students, which is why we offer a plethora of options to make education at the Games Academy accessible and affordable. These include scholarships, grants, student loans, and flexible payment plans," says Nam Nguyen, the Student Advisor at the Games Academy.

"Moreover, our partnerships with industry sponsors, government agencies, and educational organisations enable us to provide financial assistance to qualified students based on merit, need, and diversity criteria. We are dedicated to ensuring that financial considerations do not hinder talented individuals from pursuing their passion for game development," he assures.

How does the Games Academy cooperate with the indie dev scene in Berlin?

We have a profound commitment to supporting the indie dev scene in Berlin through various initiatives and partnerships. We regularly host events, workshops, and networking opportunities where indie developers can showcase their work, exchange ideas, and collaborate with our students and faculty.

"Furthermore, we actively engage with local indie studios, offering mentorship, resources, and access to our facilities. Through these collaborations, we aim to foster a thriving ecosystem of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the Berlin indie dev community," adds Ann Schomburg, Head of the Art Department.

You are one of the initiators of Games Ground. Why are events like this important for the industry?

"Events such as Games Ground play an indispensable role in uniting industry professionals, enthusiasts, and stakeholders to celebrate the art and culture of gaming. They serve as a platform for networking, knowledge sharing, and business opportunities, whilst also showcasing the latest trends, technologies, and innovations within the gaming industry," Tom Achsel and Sebastian Gsänger, who have been particularly instrumental in the fair's organisation and development from the Games Academy team, say.

"As one of the initiators of Games Ground, we were elated by the overwhelming success of the inaugural event in 2023. It surpassed our expectations in terms of attendance, engagement, and impact, reaffirming the critical importance of such events for the industry. Looking ahead, we are thrilled to announce that there will be a second instalment of Games Ground in 2024. Building upon the success of the first event, we are committed to making the next edition even more expansive, superior, and inclusive. We cordially invite everyone to join us in celebrating the creativity, diversity, and passion of the gaming community at Games Ground 2024," they conclude.