Historical Milestones & Notables

SMU Guildhall was established in 2003 as the deep interest and at the specific request of gaming industry leaders to equip the next generation of leaders and game creators with the technical skills and instincts required to drive the evolution of gaming.

Since then, our programs and class offerings have been built around that mission by employing world-class educators, modeling present-day industry methods in our team-based courses, leveraging two full decades of industry partnerships in and out of the classroom, and contributing to the furthering and expansion of the industry via both exceptional technical and creative training as well as changemaking collaborative research endeavors.  

Across our history, we have been recognized globally for both programmatic awards and placements, student game awards and record-making download numbers, faculty research endeavors, and more.

20-Year Retrospective: Take a Peek at Our Past 20 Years

Historical Milestones

    A selection of milestone moments from over our first two decades:

    • 2003 (C1): SMU Guildhall admits its 1st cohort

    • 2004 (C1): 1st graduating cohort

    • 2007 (C5): 1st MIT degrees conferred

    • 2011 (Inertia): 1st contest winner at the Intel Indie Games Challenge

    • 2012 (C17): 1st production track graduates

    • 2014 (Kraven Manor): 1st Steam Greenlight and 1st Capstone game to be published on Steam

    • 2014 (Kraven Manor): 1st Intel University Games Showcase winner

    • 2014 (Kraven Manor): 1st game to hit 100k+ downloads

    • 2017 (Mouse Playhouse): 1st VR game

    • 2017 (Mouse Playhouse): 1st Capstone team hired en masse (Gearbox Software)

    • 2017 (Re:Bound): 1st game to port to PS4

    • 2017-2018 (The Princeton Review): Ranked #1 program for Game Design

    • 2018 (C27): 1st semester-based cohort

    • 2018 (FrostRunner): 1st game to hit 250k+ downloads

    • 2020 (HaberDashers): 1st TGP2 game to be published on Steam

    • 2020 (C29 & C30): Ford Hall opens, Guildhall moves

    • 2023 (Light of Alariya): 1st UE5 game self-published on Epic Game Store

    Retrospective Notables

    • As of Summer 2023, SMU Guildhall has claimed a Top 10 ranking for 13 years in a row in The Princeton Review’s ranking of the world’s top graduate game design programs, including a multi-year #1 ranking.

    • Our alumni have worked at over 350 studios around the world on hundreds of titles, contributing on major titles from premier studios every year. Many of those titles are included in the pages of this report.

    • Students and research teams at SMU Guildhall have won awards and competitions every year; some of these past competitions have included: Game Developers' Conference Game Narrative Review, Intel University Games Showcase, SMU Research Day, TechTitans Edge Computing Grand Challenge, Certain Affinity Portfolio Competition, MoMoCon Indie Game Competition, Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPrize, DICE Summit Intel Scholarship and Diversity Award and Randy Pausch Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Scholarship, SXSW Indie Gaming Competition, E3 College Game Competition, Red Bull Clash Course, HackTX, 20 over 20 Hackathon, Industry Giants Student Art and Animation Competition, GDC Online Narrative, Blizzard Entertainment's Student Art Contest, Indie Game Challenge, STEM Video Game Challenge, Independent Game Festival Competition, Intel Game Demo Contest, Texas Instruments DLP Products Next Generation Gaming Projectors Competition, and the Make Something Unreal “Educational Category”. Many works by both students and faculty have been featured in papers, publications, interviews, articles, and talks.

    • Cohort 31 Capstone game Light of Alariya marked SMU Guildhall's first Unreal Engine 5 game (in fact, one of the first games released on Unreal Engine 5). Launches of C31's games on the Epic Games Store will also mark the first on this platform.

    • In 2014, SMU Guildhall began collaborating with SMU Meadows School of the Arts to create original music for our games. Today, this collaboration has grown into a successful endeavor in which students from Meadows’ music, film sound design, and voice acting contribute to the music, sound, and voice acting on every SMU Guildhall TGP game. This includes live recordings of original compositions with the full SMU orchestra, access to professional-grade sound design and recording studios, tools, and equipment, and talented professors of practice who specialize in these sub-specialties. In recent years, these soundtracks have been packaged and showcased as DLC for published games. The collaboration was taken to a new level in Fall 2022 when a $2,500 Engaged Learning grant enabled 32 musicians and a composer to participate in the first live orchestra recording session for Guildhall games. This collaboration produced the soundtracks for both C31 Capstone games and has directly led to the creation of an official video game music composition track that kicks off in the fall of 2024.

    • We continue to be an officially licensed Sony developer with PlayStation 3, 4, and 5 development kits in our lab.

    • AAA company Gearbox Software hired an entire capstone team of 16 students from 2017's graduating class. “The quality of the education and experience the Guildhall students have earned has motivated Gearbox Software Senior Producer, Brian Burleson, and myself to custom-build a new team around the 16 graduating Guildhall artists, programmers, designers and producers that will be joining a key Virtual Reality project at our headquarters in Frisco, Texas,” said Randy Pitchford, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Gearbox Software. 

    • SMU Guildhall hosts events annually, some of which include: New Student Orientation, GameJam, Game Changers Speaker Series, Industry Insights Speaker Series, GDC Reception, Career Fair, Exhibition, Graduation Diploma Ceremony and Reception, Guildhall Academy Summer Camp, and SMU-TCU eSports Iron Skillet Competition. GameLab's GameJam supports our new cohort each year; for many, this is their first experience creating a game in a team environment, and it gives them an exciting taste of the next two years of their life. SMU Guildhall faculty and staff also participate in and support local game jams and hackathons each year, which have included: Ludum Dare, Chillennium, and the AT&T Business Hackathon. SMU Guildhall students have helmed Extra Life, a game jam in support of Children’s Health, and raised nearly $30,000 dollars in donations across several years to aid children in the Dallas area.

    • Capitalizing on our network of faculty, industry partners, and resources, SMU Guildhall co-produced our own eSports convention titled OP Live Dallas in 2018, which included keynotes from industry thought-leaders, a 16-team collegiate Overwatch Tournament, a Pro-Am Fortnite Tournament starting with 98 attendee duo pairs, a showcase of eight Team Game Projects developed at SMU Guildhall, broadcasting sessions with professional streamers (who collectively boasted half a million followers), a digital art contest, and exhibitors from across the country. SMU Guildhall also supports the SMU undergraduate esports club and previously hosted the Game::Business::Law conference, the Intel Buzz Workshop, and the first-ever Boy Scout Game Design Merit Badge workshop.

    • We work annually alongside game developer Certain Affinity to present the annual Nels Nelson Memorial Scholarship, continuing a legacy of recognizing excellence, generosity, and leadership in future game developers.

    • SMU Guildhall faculty annually serve on committees and advisory boards at SMU and beyond, some of which have included: Faculty Senate, Academic Program Review Committee, University Assessment and Accreditation Committee, Institutional Review Board, Academic Technology Committee, Faculty Focus Groups, Perkins Convocation Advisory Board, IDGA Advisory Board, DISD Collegiate Academy for Gaming and Simulation Steering Committee, and KU Gear Up Diploma+ program.

    • SMU Guildhall follows SMU’s commitment to being a good neighbor by partnering with various public and private schools in Dallas and the surrounding cities and by supporting outreach programs like Upward Bound! that provides underprivileged high school students a career path in tech and STEM. This gives SMU Guildhall’s students a chance to coach and mentor high school students while educating kids and their parents on potential careers in game development. These aspiring developers show the games they built to students and faculty for advice and encouragement. By supporting these programs and exposing these STEM students to the benefits of our program, GameLab has become known as an integral step leading to a career in video game development.

    • SMU Guildhall has a continued partnership with Dallas ISD and the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) to help with creating new opportunities for DISD students to earn free and transferable college credit before they graduate high school. As a DISD Collegiate Academy partner, SMU Guildhall works with students enrolled in the Gaming Pathway at Dr. Emmett J. Conrad High School. The district launched eight collegiate academies, one of which is the first Pathways to Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in the state of Texas, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Participating schools provide the opportunity for high school students to: earn up to an Associate of Applied Science degree tuition-free while in high school; earn up to 60 hours of tuition-free college credit (eliminating thousands of dollars in tuition); start college at a four-year university having completed two years of academic credit work, thereby earning a four-year degree in less time; enter the job market workforce-ready with the skills to succeed; and become familiar with the effort needed to successfully complete college-level coursework. The collegiate academies are designed to serve incoming ninth-grade students who want to attend college, will be first-generation college students, and have been historically underrepresented in higher education. Each collegiate academy accepts 100-125 students each year as incoming freshmen, who then move together as a cohort as they progress through their high school years. The Gaming Pathway’s first cohort was 55% female, which is a perfect complement for the Guildhall’s and SMU’s endeavors to increase gender diversity in game development and other STEM fields.

    • GameLab continues to work with industry partners in a variety of ways. We host local partners ­­— such as Gearbox, PeopleFun, and Bethesda Dallas — at meet-and-greet mixers with industry vets and our students, and we work with partners like Sony Santa Monica and Rockstar Games on sessions where teams present their games and receive feedback from industry professionals. This gives studios a chance to get to know our students early and has helped the students form networking relationships, making job interviews more impactful than ever. These relationships also allow us to integrate on-site visits to local studios into our production and Capstone curriculum. Additionally, studios and industry professionals serve as student mentors in our Mentorship Program. Our mentorship program connects second-year students with mentors including Guildhall alumni and our wide industry network. This initiative carefully assigns each participating student with a developer from their target career-path. Over the course of the academic year, students receive one-on-one guidance concerning their portfolio, application materials, and professional goals. As a result, students approach graduation better prepared to secure and master their entrance into the industry. As of 2020, a record 34 companies were participating in the mentorship program, including Blizzard Entertainment, Sony PlayStation, Gearbox Software, Certain Affinity, High Moon Studios, id Software, Naughty Dog, and Microsoft (343 Industries). Industry professionals also serve as portfolio reviewers, guest lecture and workshop providers, Career Fair hiring recruiters, and partners for collaborative curriculum enhancement and research initiatives. 

    • Some of the studios and industry leaders who have presented keynote speeches and panel presentations at SMU Guildhall include, but are not limited to: John Carmack, Former CTO at Oculus VR; Celia Hodent, Game UX Strategist and former Director of User Experience at Epic Games; David Helgason, Partner at Transition and Founder of Unity Technologies; Doug Lombardi, former VP of Marketing for Valve Software; Ed Fries, General Partner at 1Up Ventures, Creator of Microsoft Game Studios, Co-Creator of the XBOX; Garrett Young, former Business Advisor for Rising Tide Entertainment and General Manager for id Software; Graeme Devine, CTO at QXR Studios, formerly of Magic Leap; Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, Founding Partner at Behold Ventures, former Producer for Bonfire Studios and Senior Producer for FIFA at EA; Yusuke Naora, Art Director at Square Enix; Paul Bettner, CEO/Founder of Playful & Co-Creator of Words With Friends; Tanya Watson, Co-Founder & COO at Squanchtendo, formerly Executive Producer at Epic Games; Gary Conti, Director of Education Relations & Industry Outreach at Rockstar Games, former Red Dead Redemption II Producer; Michael Bosley, Guildhall alumnus and Santa Monica Studio Programmer; Stephen Chin, Senior Gameplay Designer at Guerrilla; Cindy Armstrong, Chief Administrative Officer at Playable Worlds; Guido Arcella, award-winning film and game composer; Matt Hooper, Senior Technical Program Manager Lead at Meta, former Director of Development at Oculus VR; Fawzi Mesmar, VP Global Creative at Ubisoft; Morgan Wilson, Lead Level Designer at Thats’s No Moon; Sam Shafik, Character Animator formerly of Castleville, Bonfire Studios, and Adventure Bay; David Savage, SMU alumnus and Senior Game Designer at Sucker Punch Productions; alumnus John D. Brady, Cybersecurity Leader and former FlexForce Engineer at AT&T; alumnus David Vaught, Design Lead for Collins Aerospace and former Senior UX Designer at Thomson Reuters; alumnus Zach Stambaugh, Product Manager and former Lead Artist at PeopleFun; and companies SideFX/Houdini, Epic Games, Santa Monica Studio, Oxide Games, members of the Borderlands 3 team; 900lbs, Certain Affinity, MagicLeap, Microsoft, Samsung VR, Google, EA, Irrational Games, Obsidian Games, Relic, Infinity Ward, and Daybreak Studios.