What now for Benilde’s game development program?

What now for Benilde’s game development program?

De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde has always prided itself with pioneering degree programs in various industries. Offering the Philippines’ first ever program in game development, Benilde changed the landscape by catapulting students into the local and international scene. But when De La Salle University announced its own programs in partnership with Ubisoft Entertainment last March, the College faces a new challenge—if game development is now taught at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, what now for Benilde’s own offering?

Illustration by Kaila Mendoza

Leveling the landscape

In the early 2000s, careers in the local video game industry were almost unheard of. Students would take up more complex degree programs like computer science, or venture into the creative industry through animation or fine arts. As video games grew in popularity, Benilde was the first to innovate as a response to the increasing demands of the industry. The Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with Specialization in Game Design and Development (BSIT-GDD) program was born in 2009, leading other institutions to follow suit.

The program’s official description lists the degree as one that is aimed “at the next generation of game developers.” Students who take up the program would excel at three areas: technical competencies in programming, artistic competencies in game art and sound design, and competencies in business and production. While things have worked well for a while, years of alumni feedback and changing times called for a curriculum upgrade.

Illustration by Kaila Mendoza

In 2015, Benilde revamped the BSIT-GDD program, changing it to Bachelor of Science in Interactive Entertainment and Multimedia Computing (BS-IEMC). This was in accordance to the Commission of Higher Education’s (CHED) 2014 memorandum on the “Policies, Standards, and Guidelines for Bachelor of Science in Entertainment and Media Computing”, officially laying the foundation for game development education in the country. The revamp led to Benilde being the first to offer a CHED-approved full game development program, with the option for students to major in Game Art or Game Development. The change was well received, as the shift from an IT specialization to a standalone Bachelor of Science degree meant that future students would no longer need to have IT skills, making it easier for students to pursue game development without the hassle of programming, and vice versa.

Gaming gets 1-Up’ed

For several months, rumors have been swirling around that a major video game developer will be establishing a studio in the country. Earlier reports revealed that the French multinational company Ubisoft Entertainment is looking to outsource Filipino talent for its bigger studios abroad. The company, touted as one of the biggest video game developers and publishers in the world, is behind popular video game franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Prince of Persia, and the Tom Clancy games. Eventually, they announced that they are actually establishing Ubisoft Philippines, an outgrowth of Ubisoft Singapore based in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

With plans to hire 50 people in their first year, the studio aims to employ not just programmers, but artists, designers, and project managers as well. This is the company’s 30th studio, and is located inside DLSU’s Science and Technology Complex in Laguna. DLSU then announced that it is launching two new game development programs in partnership with the studio: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science major in Game Development (BSCS-GD) and Bachelor of Science in Entertainment and Multimedia Computing (BS-EMC). The two programs will be launched in their 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years respectively.

The news made waves across the internet and got picked up by several major news outlets, including CNN Philippines, Rappler, InterAksyon, and international sites like VentureBeat, and IGN. Reactions were very positive as it marked a major milestone in the country’s game development industry. According to DLSU President Br. Raymundo Suplido FSC in an official statement, DLSU “recognizes the need to integrate industry-driven skills and experience into its technology research and innovation programs.” He believes that the new programs “will add to the University’s globalized standards and give our students the opportunity to enrich their competencies in this field of study.”

Differences aside

Not much information is available on these two new programs as of writing, but a report by DLSU’s official student publication The Lasallian reveals that in the BSCS-GDD program, potential applicants must “ideally have a strong background in math and science, possess analytical and problem-solving abilities, and have completed pre-calculus subjects prior to attending DLSU.” DLSU seems to have taken the two-pronged approach to game development education: one is dedicated to computer science while the other is dedicated to multimedia creation. Meanwhile, Benilde’s own offering makes clear the subject areas tackled and career options to take after completing the program. For example, the new program, BS-IEMC, now offers iOS and Android game development, and has a course dedicated to developing for virtual and augmented reality.

Illustration by Kaila Mendoza

Benilde GDD Chairperson Mr. Norman Lee, explained in an interview last year that Benilde’s revamped program will be the next step for Benildean game designers to achieve “AAA” quality games. Students are given a chance to decide on a major on the third term of their first year, either being a game developer or a game artist. In the previous program, students were taught both game development and game art. Recently, he mentioned that the program will again be updated to be in line with the country’s K-12 program, something incoming students should look forward to. While things look exciting for the upcoming program which begins this school year, some Benildeans are worried about the future of its own program.

Benildean student, Chanelle Magat, said that it saddens her to know that there is now competition between two Lasallian schools. Another student, Melvin Agad, also admits that it saddens him that the partnership was not between Benilde and Ubisoft but believes that this is a chance to prove what the college’s GDD program has to offer. However, Benildean professor Mr. Kevin Valmonte believes that the partnership with Ubisoft is a great opportunity for game developers in the Philippines. “I think most devs here in the PH aren’t AAA level yet, so having Ubisoft here would help push that bar up,” he added.

In agreement with Valmonte, Lee said that the partnership will benefit the country and students should focus on being equipped. “Partnership will have its advantages. However, partnership is useless if you don’t have the skill. That’s the thing with students that I want to stress. Again, Ubisoft won’t be the last,” he shared.

Pioneering the uncertain future

Benildean professor Ms. Beatrice M.V. Lapa, Ph.D, believes that Benilde still has an advantage in the field. “As of now, all of our faculty members are industry practitioners. So we are up to date when it comes to tools and methods. Most schools don’t have this advantage,” said Lapa. “If you have the right attitude and discipline, it could get you into companies through virtue of recommendation,” she added. Lee agrees: “Main point is, as part of the College’s policy, one can not be a faculty member in any program if you do not have industry exposure. I think that’s one of the biggest strengths of Benilde.” He added that 90 percent of the faculty members of the College’s GDD program are from different gaming industries, one of which is Ubisoft.

The chairperson explains that it’s not about who’s beating who, but rather the students’ skills meeting global industry standards and expectations. “Rest assured that Benildean students are great,” said Lee. “Benilde has been always in the business and is continuously giving the best for its students. Students are provided with incredible machines, Alienware and Mac laboratories, and advanced software,” he added.

Illustration by Kaila Mendoza

Benilde remains unfazed by recent developments in the landscape, and continues to ensure that its programs remain the best in the industry. While concerns about competition or market share will continue to linger on, Benildean faculty assure that the College is equipped for the years to come. Lee concludes, “If you do not work for your education and started cheating your way to college… wala kang pagtutunguhan, even if solid ang partnership.” (You won’t end up anywhere, even if the partnership is solid.) In a growing industry, competition might be what the College needs. After all, what’s life without a little heat?


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