Welcome to Professor Schreiber
Professor Schreiber joined IGM this fall from the Savannah College of Art and Design. We asked him a few questions as a way for him to introduce himself.
Why did you decide to become a professor?
There is so much win for me here. I'm in a position to make a huge difference in the lives of a lot of individual game developers, and by extension, the entire industry as they get out there. Meanwhile, I can impact the industry another way, by making games, and finding ways to make better games (academics call this "research" and "scholarship") and then getting that information out there where others can use it. In contrast to the game industry's nature of having trade secrets that are kept locked within a studio, I'm actually encouraged to share everything I can to help everyone make better games. These are the kinds of things that I would be doing on my own if I were independently wealthy and had infinite money and time, yet here I'm actually paid for it!
What do you find most enjoyable about teaching?
The hands-on impact I have when interacting with students. In every student who wants to learn games, I see a little bit of my own 18-year-old self, who loved playing games, wanted to make them, but didn't always know where to begin. It took me a good ten years after college to figure out what I was doing, and if I can save every student a decade of their life so they can spend that extra time doing what they're passionate about, that's a lot of person-years saved.
What do you find most challenging about teaching?
It has been said by many that game design itself is challenging because it is a second-order design problem: you design the mechanics, which are them experienced by the player when set in motion, so you are always one or two steps removed from the player, yet you are still responsible for what happens to them. Following that logic, teaching game design is a third-order design problem, because I am designing the knowledge passed on to people who will then go and make games, and my value as a teacher is ultimately judged by what the players experience in my students' games. Creating the systems in my classroom that I think are most likely to lead to a positive outcome five, ten, twenty years down the road... that's challenging!
What advice would you give IGM students?
First and most important thing is to figure out what you want to spend your time doing. If you're in the working world, you will be spending as much or more time working than you do with any other single activity, so make sure you're doing something that you find worthy of your time. If you don't know what that thing is yet, that's okay - most people don't figure this out until later in life - but then take a wide variety of courses outside of your comfort zone, go to clubs and activities you know nothing about, and in general use your time here to expose yourself to as many new experiences as possible, until you find your passions.
If you do know what you want to do, then find out everything you can about it. Ask around, and find the people that have already done what you want to do, and talk to them to find out how they did it. Some of those people might be here on campus, either as faculty, or guest speakers, or even fellow students.
What are the areas of your current research?
I have two areas I'm working on right now. First, I'm looking at the subfield of game design known as game balance, and trying to just document what we know about how it is done and what the best practices are. There are a few scattered sources that go into this topic a little bit, but nothing comprehensive, so I'm taking a first stab at that myself. And once I have that, from there, it's a question of what I can do with games that let me apply this knowledge to make things better.
The other area of interest is in game jams, and how to make them more effective for their goals. What is the optimal length of time and overall schedule to minimize burnout, maximize enjoyment, and be short enough to not have teams spending all their time in a development/content grind, but not so short that they don't have time to explore an innovative idea? What kinds of constraints lead to the most interesting projects, or the fastest gains in development skills on the team? Does it make a difference if everyone is in the same room, or the same building? By finding ways to make better game jams, we can improve the big events like Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare, and also find better ways to work jamming into game curricula at schools, and even suggest some best practices for game companies wishing to hold their own internal jams.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Spending time with my wife, daughter and son. Whether we go to a park, play at the Strong, or just stay in at home, their company revitalizes me and reminds me of why I do everything I do.
Please join us in welcoming Professor Schreiber!