New Pratt master’s program to prepare students to enter game design industry

As more creative uses for games reveal themselves each day, the Pratt School of Engineering has decided to unveil a new master of engineering in game design, development and innovation (GDDI).

The program is part of a Pratt initiative to introduce more degree programs that are “industry-focused,” according to Ernesto Escobar, executive in residence in the Pratt School of Engineering and director of the master’s program.

Several industry-focused, practical master’s programs that go beyond what is traditionally offered at engineering schools, according to Escobar, such as climate and sustainability engineering and cybersecurity, are already in place.  

Game design and development is the latest addition to the roster, announced last spring. 

Commercial interest in game design has been rapidly increasing in recent years, as companies and even other academic departments begin to see potential for video games beyond solely entertainment. Escobar hopes that he will be able to spark interdisciplinary collaborations at Duke and the Research Triangle that leverage the use of games.

“Other disciplines are interested in using games for history or using games for math or using games for chemistry,” Escobar said. 

He also pointed to games being useful in healthcare settings, such as for patient recovery and teaching patients about the conditions that they may have through interactive experiences. 

As of Sept. 6, applications are live for the inaugural cohort of the program. First round applications are due on Jan. 15, 2024, and the first cohort will begin classes in the fall of 2024. The program is expecting to enroll between 25 and 30 students in the cohort.

The GDDI program is a two-year master’s program, consisting of four semesters of classes and a mandatory summer internship. Core classes include foundational programming and software engineering, as well as game design and development. Business and leadership courses are also key elements of the curriculum.

The program is designed specifically to help students enter the game design industry following graduation, without the need for further studies.

“We have business fundamentals for engineers and management of high tech industries. We want to position our graduates to have all the technical skills needed, but also managerial and business skills that will help them succeed beyond the first two years, for their whole career,” Escobar said.

A unique element of this master’s program is its intent for students to develop their own game through the publishing stage. Escobar said that this differs from other game development programs, where deliverables are limited to the demo phase.

“In general, many academic programs take you to demo. You work on something, and then you show a very cool demo. That is great. But game development is beyond the demo. You have to play-test it and keep improving your game,” Escobar said.

To accomplish this, each semester of the program is focused on a different aspect of game development, going from design to prototyping to publishing.

“In the process of pushing students towards publishing a game, they will develop additional skill sets that they won't be able to get in other programs that only take you to the demo,” he added.

Escobar noted that the program is meant to provide a “transformational” study of game design, giving its many facets representation within the course of study. He explained that some master’s programs tend to focus on design, while others focus more on technical aspects. Duke’s program seeks to offer both technical and design development experience, along with connecting it to the business side of the industry.

There is not a specific type of student that the program is seeking, he added. Rather, the intention is to admit a diverse cohort of both recent graduates and professionals hoping to gain experience with game design.

Lara Kendall

Lara Kendall is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.   


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