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USC Unveils Student-Driven Game Expo (EXCLUSIVE)

The best game design school in the country, alma mater for some of the folks behind ThatGameCompany, Oculus VR, “The Stanley Parable,” “Threes,” and “Walden, a Game,” is kicking off its own video game expo in May, the University of Southern California told Variety.

The inaugural USC Games Expo, which takes place on May 9, doesn’t just highlight a slew of student-created games, but the rising importance of mobile games and the need for more game developers. The event is being presented by mobile game developer and publisher Jam City and will feature about 50 games from USC Games, a collaboration between the university’s School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering. While USC Games has for years held a demo day for its Advanced Games Projects program, this is the first time the university is demonstrating games from across all elements of the Games’ program.

“This is the first game expo at USC,” said Danny Bilson, chair of School of Cinematic Arts’ interactive media & games division. “We’ve never aggregated everything under one tent. We wanted to put everything under one umbrella because no one is really seeing all of our students’ work and we’re proud of them.”

The expo will open with an in-theater presentation of the Advanced Games Program projects in the USC Eileen Norris Theatre. AGP represents a culmination of work over the course of one year in the program’s most challenging course. Those attending the free event will be able to get hands-on with a number of the presented games.

This first expo is the by-product of a new relationship with mobile game developer and publisher Jam City. The company’s support for the expo comes out of a “very deep relationship” it has with USC, said Chris DeWolfe, CEO of Jam City and co-founder of MySpace. “One of [USC Games’] goals is to extend their curriculum into a more real-world curriculum where students can graduate and start their own gaming studios or plug into real-world game companies.”

And a big part of the game industry is mobile gaming, which is considered to be the fastest form of entertainment media. Gaming accounted for 90% of Google Play revenue and 75% of Apple App Store revenue in 2017, according to Sensor Tower. Globally, there are 2.5 billion gamers, compared to 100 million in 1995.

Jam City, which is set to release “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” later this month, added more than 300 employees in the past two years and is currently looking to hire nearly 50 more. DeWolfe said the upcoming USC expo is mutually beneficial to the company and university.

“It’s going to benefit USC because, if you look at the curriculum of most gaming programs out there, they’re not necessarily built with the most recent successes in mind or key success factors in mind,” he said. “Look at mobile gaming: that’s a combination of really awesome game design, but also really deep analytics and understanding things like what are the free-to-play game economics.“

Chris DeWolfe
CREDIT: Ethan Pines/The Forbes Collectio

DeWolfe said he believes the future of video game growth lies chiefly in mobile game development and not just the casual games that used to drive the mobile market, but mid-core and eventually hardcore games.

As mobile phones continue to grow in power, game developers that once focused their efforts on consoles and computer games, are starting to see the massive mobile market as a viable place to expand. In the past few months alone, mega-hits “Fortnite” and “PUBG” both received full-blown smartphone versions. “ARK: Survival Evolved” developer Studio Wildcard recently announced it was bringing the PC and console game to Android and iOS.

Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney and Apple said smartphone gaming will continue to be a big driver in gaming.

“Mobile gaming is where the action is,” DeWolfe said. “It’s where people are spending money, where their devices are. It’s getting to be really high quality and in some cases, really deep strategy.”

But to make those high-end games for mobile, companies like Jam City need to continue to attract top talent, DeWolfe said. USC “understands where the market is going. They understand that there are billions of gamers and that it’s leading to the democratization of gamers and that they have to build a curriculum around that.”

DeWolfe said a lot of this is driven by the fact that so many people were introduced to light or casual games, and have been playing them for years. Those players have slowly become used to the core elements of gameplay and their tastes are evolving.

“What we’re really seeing right now is the blurring between casual games and core and mid-core games,” he said. “We’re seeing casual gamers taking on a lot more core and mid-core mechanics. They’ve been in training wheels for years and now they’re ready for the next step.”

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