Computer entertainment is serious business
Indeed these can be regarded as the Maltese pioneers in the multi-billion-euro global computer gaming and entertainment industry, which is being touted as a potential new niche in the local ICT industry. It is an opportunity which a specific area of the Maltese education sector wants to exploit.
"One of the challenges is that Silicon Valley has dominated technical innovation and it is time to redress that balance. My opinion is that Malta has the basis of a high grade 'knowledge economy' and, perhaps in the long run, could be branded 'Silicon Island'," according to William Latham, professor of computer games and entertainment at Goldsmiths College, University of London. "Interestingly moving forward, products such as Google, Facebook, Bebo are having an increasingly creative/artistic feel to them, and the barriers between art and technology are finally blending."
Prof. Latham was in Malta a few weeks ago on the occasion of the Malta Digital Arts Expo and spoke about the opportunities of computers in the world of art and design, animation for entertainment and games, and how to build a career in this exciting industry.
Prof. Latham is an accomplished researcher and businessman, having worked with IBM in the late 1980s and launched his own company that employed tens of people. He forms part of Bioinformatics Group at Imperial College London and has worked on a film that depicts an evolving protein structure.
He is just one of Goldsmiths' lecturers who will be delivering an MSc in Computer Games and Entertainment in Malta through St Martin's Institute of IT of Ħamrun. The MSc is being launched to complement the undergraduate degree, the BSc (Hons) Creative Computing recently launched by St Martin's. These courses are covered by the myPotential scheme.
"I think with Malta's position in the Mediterranean, its strong existing 'online' business, and St Martin's bright computing graduates, it has the basis of being an ideal location for large computer games companies to be positioned, particularly as the online sale of games increases (rather than boxed products).
"I think it will need strategic investment and the correct incentives to attract companies to start off with, and a flow of people on the island with computer games expertise that the MSc Computer Games and Entertainment at St Martin's supplies to ensure there are people on the island to work for the games companies."
Frederic Fol Leymarie, another professor at Goldsmiths and the co-producer of the film on the protein structure together with Prof. Latham, thinks SmartCity Malta is an opportunity to be seized upon by the Maltese by filling up a large part of the new jobs, also in new industries not previously present on the island.
"The online gaming (like betting and casino) is important in Malta. This industry will likely move to 3D graphics in the near future (already in preparation) and get closer to the technologies used in mainstream computer games. Thus there could be some side movements of programmers in that industry in Malta, wanting to move to computer games, and the MSc would be their best bet. It also shows Malta can attract a graphics-based industry to the island."
Goldsmiths was a natural choice for these degrees, because it is voted as one of the best five arts and design colleges in the UK, attracting millions of pounds in research funding.
Charles Theuma, the principal at St Martin's, explained that the objective of these degree courses is to provide top-class programmers.
"Learning how to programme for the creative arts, focusing on the human computer interaction and pushing the limit in the technology in this field, does not benefit the computer games industry only. Such skills are necessary in every aspect of software development, including the financial services industry, the online betting companies, e-government and hopefully emerging industries such as television productions, media development, cultural information systems and edutainment environments. Malta has already lost a large computer games company which wanted to settle in Malta, but moved on due to lack of human resources availability. We are making sure this will not happen again the second time."
Students reading for the MSc Computer Games and Entertainment don't just learn the current applications and packages, but they learn the theory and concepts that underlie them. While the BSc Creative Computing and the MSc Computer Games and Entertainment are complementary, they are also good degrees in their own right. The MSc is unique in that it integrates at its core lecturers who have a long experience of the computer games and SFX industries.
"The Malta Digital Arts Expo indicated that the Maltese population is still very wary to explore new space, and has the tendency to follow the well-trodden paths. But this is not new to us. This area is going to be big, very big," insists Mr Theuma.
"As more citizens become net citizens, participating through their avatars in second life, lively by Google, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft and Project Entropia, among others, the human computer interaction will need to become even more sophisticated and living in such a matrix will probably have a marked effect on the real world. I can see a lot of such virtual worlds being developed for educational purposes - you can, for example, imagine a virtual world which will teach history, say of the Great Siege of 1565, by kids immersing themselves in the battles on the ramparts."
More information on the BSc (Hons) Creative Computing and an MSc Computer Games and Entertainment and other related courses at www.stmartins.edu and www.gamesgoldsmiths.com.