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SMU Guildhall, top ranking graduate program for video game development, celebrates 20th anniversary

Nov 01, 2023

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SMU Guildhall, a premier graduate-level video game development program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, is celebrating its 20th anniversary during the 2023-2024 academic year, including a two-day celebration this November. With a highly experienced faculty and specializations in all four cornerstones of game development, the program has helped more than 1,000 students achieve rewarding careers in the gaming industry.

The Princeton Review has consistently ranked SMU Guildhall in its Top 10 listings of graduate schools for Game Design out of over 150 programs in the United States, and SMU Guildhall has garnered a strong reputation within the game development community since its start in 2003, in part due to its strong alumni network. In May, the program surpassed its 1000th graduate, and Guildhall alumni have worked at more than 350 studios and tech companies worldwide.

"Over the past 20 years, we have built a reputation of consistent quality – quality of students, alumni, and contributions to the gaming industry,” said Elizabeth Stringer, SMU Guildhall Director of Academics and Faculty. “Our students graduate with the equivalent of two years of experience, know how to work effectively with others, and have skillsets attractive to top recruiters."

SMU Guildhall was initially established through the Hart eCenter at the request of the gaming industry to train its future leaders. Students currently train in the specializations of art creation, level design, production, and software development. Throughout their studies they develop independent projects and cross-disciplinary team games, with many of their game titles made available for anyone to play for free on the online platform Steam. To date, SMU Guildhall has published 24 games on Steam since 2017, which have been downloaded and positively reviewed over a million times by gamers worldwide. In addition to publishing success, the work of Guildhall students is recognized by hundreds of game studios and publishers across the globe including Epic Games, one of the nation’s leading studios and game engine developers, which routinely features Guildhall students' work on their semi-annual best-of "sizzle" reel.

Director Gary Brubaker points out that the Guildhall’s location at SMU roots it in the Texas video game industry corridor, offering visibility to and opportunity for internships and employment with video game industry leaders in the area. Brubaker noted that the Guildhall’s relocation to the university’s main campus from a satellite campus in Plano in 2020 accelerated its ability to partner with different university departments for research and learning aids. 

For example, the Guildhall has worked with SMU's human trafficking research team and the Department of Biological Sciences to enhance data-driven research by leveraging the power of video games. The Guildhall also worked with the Simmons School of Education and Human Development on MathFinder, a unique set of gaming tools to help students engage with mathematical concepts outside the classroom, and the “PeopleForWords Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis,” an adult literacy adventure game app. 

Guildhall’s founder, Peter Raad, expressed his gratitude to the Hart eCenter and SMU leaders for their initial investment and continuous support of the program. He and Guildhall’s current leaders believe its legacy will continue to make a difference in the gaming industry and other areas of academia for years to come.