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GEM of a New Graduate Degree

Master’s Program in Game, Entertainment, and Media Analytics Will Prepare Students for Growing Industry

By Aadit Tambe M. Jour ’22

Digital images/tech

Illustration by Shutterstock

UMD's College of Information Studies will launch the Master of Professional Studies in Game, Entertainment, and Media Analytics (GEM) program this fall.

Why would someone spend actual money on flashy digital clothes that can only be worn in a video game? Is it too soon to ping a language learner to remind them to open the app and get back to work? How do you get a social media user to click on just one more story—or realize it’s time to return to the real world?

Such questions are vital both for a quickly growing online entertainment industry and for society at large, and students will explore them in the new Master of Professional Studies in Game, Entertainment, and Media Analytics (GEM) program debuting this fall in the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (iSchool).

The program will train them to apply analytics and data science methods to video game and entertainment application design, as well as help them understand societal implications of large-scale data collection in the video gaming and entertainment industries.

In today’s data-obsessed world, everything users interact with on the internet is tracked, monitored and researched, said Caro Williams-Pierce, assistant professor of information studies, who teaches classes about games and design.

From apps that keep us hooked onto social media to streaming services that cue up the next episode of our favorite binge-worthy show, we are surrounded by algorithms that collect and deploy data in order to “gamify” our user experience and captivate us. Although users may not recognize it, they are engaging with the gamification of technology on a daily basis.

“If you haven’t checked your Duolingo app in a few days, it’ll start pinging you reminders—that’s an aspect of gamification,” she said. “It’ll remind you to come in every day and practice; it’ll remind you (of your progress) by filling up these little bars.”

The iSchool already offers a Master’s of Information Management (MIM) degree centered around data analytics; the GEM program dovetails with the skills MIM students learn while focusing on data science in the entertainment sector, said David Loshin, GEM program director and lecturer in information studies.

The video gaming industry has doubled its worth in the past decade, generating an estimated $159.3 billion in revenue in 2020. Designers and developers are interested in understanding how their customers behave inside the virtual environment of their video game so they can develop features to retain their audience, he said.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do in our graduate program is to provide the framework of ‘what is entertainment’ and ‘why do people want entertainment’ and ‘what’s the experience that we’re looking for’ and ‘how can game companies engage their customers to provide the best experience,” he said.

During the one-year program, students will take data-intensive courses that will teach them to develop the infrastructure to support real-time data streaming, as well as get an overview of video game design. In a capstone course, they will work directly with a real-world entertainment company, such as Netflix, the Discovery Channel or the Belarusian video gaming firm Wargaming, which has studios worldwide. Solomon Foshko and Jonathan Crow, game developers for Wargaming, helped the iSchool craft the curriculum for this graduate program.

“Analytics and data science programs have been around for a long time, but analytics and data science for video gaming is a fairly new thing,” Foshko said. “And there were really no programs at universities that focus analytics for that kind of entertainment or the video gaming industry.”

The partnership with UMD will be mutually beneficial, Crow said—supplying Wargaming with interns while giving students the opportunity to put their skills to use in a professional setting.

At its core, the new program is about both understanding what’s happening in the code of increasingly common data-collecting apps, and with the human experience that results, Williams-Pierce said.

“We want students to understand what users are thinking about when they’re playing a game,” she said, “and what it means to experience those things.”


Schools & Departments:

College of Information Studies

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