Becker College’s game design program faces real-life challenge – shutdown

WORCESTER – With the possibility of Becker College closing its doors, alumni and students alike fear the loss of its much-loved game design program.

Becker President Nancy P. Crimmin on March 2 announced in a letter to the college that attempts to partner with another college had collapsed as state school boards determined that the difficult financial situation of the school made it unlikely that he would survive another school year.

The fate of the college now rests with its board of directors, which will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to close.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the New England Commission on Higher Education, with oversight and accreditation status, said an “emergency shutdown plan” was underway.

Planning includes working with students who wish to transfer to other schools. Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago said on Tuesday that Becker needed to make a decision on his future so students would know what options are available to them.

On March 5, Becker announced that she was already preparing transfer lanes for students if the school was forced to close. Crimmin said the college will complete the current academic year and graduate from the Class of 2021.

Becker has campuses in Worcester and Leicester. The four-year-old school has around 1,700 students. Crimmin, in his letter to the college, said Becker had stopped recruiting students.

MassDigi is housed in this renovated building on the Becker Campus at 80 William St. in Worcester.

One program with a large reputation and a large financial investment that is caught in the situation is the Becker Game Design Program. Game design has been one of the programs Becker has sought to strengthen in recent years to attract students. The college has also worked to strengthen nursing and animal studies programs.

In 2011, MassDiGi, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, was formed and hosted at Becker. MassDiGi is a state-designated center that provides creative collaboration between universities, state government, and industry in video game development.

Becker’s Game Design Program and MassDiGi have been headquartered at the Colleen C. Barrett Center, a $ 7.3 million hub for games, business, and interactive media, since 2018.

That same year, Becker became the first college in the country to offer a degree in esports management. Becker was also the first college in Massachusetts to support a university esports program with scholarships. Crimmin and Timothy Loew, executive director of MassDiGI and general manager of Becker’s college esport program, wrote in an October 2020 editorial for the Telegram & Gazette that esport could help fuel Worcester’s post-pandemic economy.

“On the post-pandemic horizon lie billions of dollars in income, tens of thousands of jobs and untold creative possibilities,” the editorial read. “By coordinating efforts and aligning talents, resources and ideas, our region can claim more than its fair share of opportunities within the rising esports industry as we seek to revive our economy.”

By 2018, the game design program had grown from 12 students a decade earlier to 600. The Princeton Review, a college and high school test preparation company, ranked Becker as the number two game design program in first cycle nationwide in a survey of 150 institutions.

Timothy Loew, executive director of MassDiGI and general manager of Becker's varsity esports program.

Becker declined to answer questions or provide further comment through his spokesperson Amy Dean.

When contacted by email to answer questions about the future of MassDiGi, Loew referred to a brief statement posted on MassDiGi’s website on March 3, saying the center planned to continue its work and would provide more information where possible.

“MassDiGI is part of the Becker College family. Yesterday’s college update was difficult to read. We appreciate the messages of support we have received and welcome any questions although we may not have responses – not yet, at least, “the statement read. read. “That said, from our perspective, the work we do at MassDiGI is the work we do and we expect it to continue. We will share more information when we can.”

Becker’s game design alumni have joined several companies in the game industry and have developed a strong network of industry alumni, said Ryan Canuel, a 2015 graduate of Becker’s game design program.

“A large number of Becker graduates work professionally in the gaming industry around the world and especially locally here in New England,” Canuel said. “As the program continues to grow it only increases, and with each increase it’s easier to get to know an alumnus anywhere you could apply.”

In a 2018 photo, Amanda Theinert, a game design professor at Becker College, dons an augmented reality headset as she prepares to demonstrate an interactive media game at an open house at the college.

Becker’s students and alumni with such a pipeline to industry are a useful asset, Canuel said. Game design is still a relatively young and developing field of study in institutions, he said.

Canuel is the co-founder and CEO of Petricore Inc, an independent Worcester-based interactive software development company specializing in game development. Petricore was founded in 2015 by a team of graduates from Becker and Canuel gives credit to the school for helping them develop the business skills and relationships needed to start a developer fresh out of college and for having provided crucial support early in the company’s history.

“Petricore wouldn’t exist today without Becker,” Canuel said. “This is how we all came together as a team, and the support Becker provided after graduation was instrumental in the continued operation and growth of the company.”

Peticore is based at the Barrett Center, which Canuel says has helped the business grow. Canuel said Monty Sharma, Managing Director of MassDiGi, has also been supporting Petricore since even before Canuel graduated and formally trained. The college also provided a pool of interns and employees to Petricore, he said.

“We have access to a great talent pool from Becker and have had many interns over the years from Becker,” Canuel said. “We ended up with several part-time or full-time employees due to connections to Becker students or recent graduates. ”

During his studies, Canuel said he realized he was more interested in the business side of game development and credits an entrepreneurship course he took at Becker to the have helped develop skills and make connections.

Canuel has also participated in several competitions known as “game jams”, where a team or individual works to create a game playable over a period of 24 to 48 hours. Becker said that his first place in a game jam is a particularly strong memory of his time at Becker.

Jason Ugles, a second-year game design student at Becker, credits Becker with helping him grow as a designer. “Becker, I’m not going to lie, I really changed my life and improved my creativity,” he said.

In a 2018 photo, Becker College student Emily Ryan discusses an interactive multimedia game called Triage, which deals with shootings and mass casualties, during an open house at the college.

Ugles said that regardless of the precarious situation at the school, classroom work continues in his curriculum as students go through the semester.

“We’re more or less focused on the end of the semester and our work,” Ugles said. “If the worst were to get worse, (Becker’s shutdown) could happen. We just want to keep an open mind and ready for that to happen unfortunately.”

Becker was Ugles’ first choice for college as he researched schools specializing in game design. He was impressed with the myriad aspects of game design covered in Becker’s classes, such as the art of the game and audio design.

“They’re expanding into an area that I feel most colleges don’t. That’s really what motivated me to apply for Becker for the first time,” Ugles said.

So far, during his time at Becker, Ugles said he was able to work to become a stronger programmer who worked in design engines, including Unity. He was also able to join a game studio trained by one of his Becker instructors.

“I originally started with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop just creating art and doing my own thing. Thanks to Becker, I was able to join a studio,” Ugles said. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever be able to join a studio until I graduated from college.”

Ugles tries to remain hopeful that Becker can bounce back and that he can continue his education in school. He said Becker assured the students the school would help them transfer to a new college. He said a possible transfer would depend on affordability and access to stock exchanges.

Although saddened by the news of Becker’s financial situation, Canuel said he also tries to remain optimistic and grateful for the help he has received.

“Like many, I was sad to hear the news, and no matter what, I will always be grateful for Becker’s support,” he said.

In addition to the help Canuel found in developing a career with Becker, he said the college was a place where he could find like-minded students after struggling to fit into the school. high school.

“I went to a little high school, where there were only a small handful of nerds and gamers like me,” Canuel said. “Being interested in things like that made it hard at times to fit in, and coming to Becker for me was a great opportunity to meet a ton of other people like me very quickly, who were all nerds.”


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