Game-U CEO greets students at first Brown Bag of semester

Kawas encourages gamers to focus on their futures. (Horacio Hernandez / Staff Photographer)

By Ria Teitelbaum
Correspondent

Michael Kawas, a video game developer and CEO of Game-U, delivered the first Brown Bag lecture of the spring semester on Friday, Feb. 2.

Once an environment and visual effects artist for game studios like LucasArts and Activision, Kawas is now the CEO and founder of Game-U, an after-school program for kids who want to make their own video games. Game-U also provides programs for children interested in robotics and coding.

Game-U is a start-up Kawas created after meeting kids who wanted to make their own games. He realized there wasn’t a structured, safe environment for kids to learn, and found a need that had to be fulfilled.

He made sure to mention that all kids are welcome at Game-U, and that they also have programs specifically for kids with special needs. Game-U currently has 10 locations, including locations in Flemington and Paramus, New Jersey.

“How many of you have had the same career goal since you were six?” Kawas asked at the opening of his lecture. Only a handful of audience members raised their hands.

When Kawas proceeded to ask audience members how many of them who were undecided on a career path after graduation played video games more than five hours a week, most of them raised their hands.

During his lecture, Kawas provided statistics on the gaming industry. Self-identified gamers, estimated to be about 2.2 billion people, are a significant portion of the worldwide population. In 2017, the gaming industry generated more than $27 billion in America, alone. Globally, the gaming industry grossed $110 billion and is expected to continue growing.

With a market that large, it takes more than just game developers to keep the industry moving. Art design, sound design, writing and coding are all integral parts of making a video game come to life.

Kawas went on to detail the many careers that exist in the gaming industry that students don’t think of. The industry needs people who can manage projects, market, advertise and assure the quality of products and services.

“Consider games as something you can do,” Kawas said.

Kawas went to school at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1996. At his second job post-graduation, he used 3-D modeling to map out buildings to “slap metal pieces of antennae” onto.

He later found he was able to apply his modeling skills in different fields, such as animation.

After getting rejected from Dreamworks and Pixar, Kawas responded to an ad desperately looking for someone who knew architecture and 3-D modeling.

What Kawas described as a “serendipitous moment” sparked his career in the gaming industry. The game in question was “Test Drive Off-Road 3,” which launched in October, 1999.

Kawas’ lecture detailed the different stages of his career, from his humble beginnings as an architect for a truck washing facility to CEO of Game-U. He also offered lessons he learned from his own experiences in the industry.

Some of his games, such as “Test Drive Cycles,” were cancelled, which taught him that games need to be profitable for the developer, and tough decisions like pulling the plug on projects sometimes need to happen. He advised that people should share with their teammates, and said that teaching others makes people better at their own crafts. He learned this after his experience working as the lead environmental artist for “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.”

Besides making games for entertainment, Kawas talked about “Project Evo,” the first game to seek Food and Drug Administration approval to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Kawas encouraged the audience to take the initiative to make anything they had an idea for, and even build something in their dorm room if they had to.

The lecture wrapped up with a question and answer portion for audience members seeking advice on breaking into the gaming industry.

“Don’t worry about how you’re behind,” Kawas said as his final piece of advice. “Just start tomorrow.”

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